Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, MN has rejected a lawsuit’s assertion that he coerced a deacon candidate into renouncing his claim that a priest sexually abused him as a teen.
Ronald Vasek has filed a lawsuit against the bishop and the Diocese of Crookston seeking both unspecified damages exceeding $50,000 and the release of records of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, Reuters reports. Vasek has claimed that the bishop threatened the man’s efforts to become a deacon and his son’s career in the priesthood.
“Bishop Hoeppner categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek not to pursue his allegations,” the diocese said, adding that the bishop and other leaders are “deeply saddened and troubled” by the allegations.
Vasek charged that in 1971, at the age of 16, he was molested during a trip to Cincinnati by Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, a priest of the diocese who went on to become vicar general. The trip was for a meeting of canon lawyers, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
He reportedly informed a priest about the abuse in 2009 or 2010, while he was considering becoming a deacon. The lawsuit said the information was passed on to Hoeppner.
According to the diocese, the allegation of abuse was reported to law enforcement in 2011. Grundhaus has been retired since July 2010 and is presently suspended from active ministry.
“The Diocese of Crookston plans to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter,” said the diocese, adding that further comment would be inappropriate until the investigation is completed.
In 2010, Vasek’s son was ordained a priest for the diocese. Vasek entered the diaconate program the next year.
The lawsuit charges that in 2015, Hoeppner pressured Vasek to sign a letter that recanted his previous statements alleging sexual abuse. The lawsuit claims this was motivated in part because the accused priest was unable to minister in other dioceses due to the abuse allegation in the diocese’s records.
The suit charges that the bishop told Vasek he would have trouble ordaining him a deacon unless he recanted. The bishop allegedly suggested Vasek’s son’s career in the priesthood would also face difficulty.
Vasek said he signed the letter and the bishop said he would keep it in his vault if it were ever needed. He claims that the bishop was blackmailing him.
The lawsuit further claims that a 2015 court order required the allegation against Grundhaus to be made public, but it was not.
Vasek’s attorney is Jeff Anderson, who has been involved in many lawsuits against the Catholic Church involving sex abuse allegations.
Father Bob Schreiner, who oversees the diocese’s deacon program, stood by Vasek’s side at a May 9 news conference and said he believed him. The priest has known Vasek for over 28 years.
The diocese said it is committed to the protection of children and a safe environment in its schools, communities and parishes. Its statement encouraged anyone with information about abuse or exploitation of children or young people to report it immediately to law enforcement or to the diocese’s victims’ assistance coordinator.
Hoeppner has asked for prayers for those involved.