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NEW YORK – The former bishop of the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, Bishop Michael Hoeppner, will not return to do any ministry in the diocese and will have his retirement compensation cut, the diocese’s new shepherd announced on March 7.
Hoeppner resigned on April 13, 2021 at the request of Pope Francis following a 20-month-long investigation into claims that he mishandled allegations of clergy sex abuse. He was 71 at the time – four years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops.
“When he was departing the Diocese of Crookston last April, Bishop Hoeppner publicly stated that he hoped to return to the diocese at the invitation of the new bishop,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston said in a March 7 letter to clergy and lay faithful. “I have spoken with him, and he has agreed not to return to do any ministry in the Diocese of Crookston.”
Cozzens added that Hoeppner’s retirement benefits will be reduced under the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “Guidelines for the Provision of Sustenance for Bishop Emeriti.” The guidelines were renewed at the USCCB general assembly last November with special guidelines for “bishops who resigned or were removed from their ecclesiastical office due to grave acts of commission or omission as stipulated by universal law,” which is what the diocese has followed in this decision.
“This section has reduced benefits recognizing the fact that the bishop emeritus will not be doing any public ministry,” Cozzens said. “The Diocese of Crookston Finance Council has approved using these guidelines for Bishop Hoeppner’s retirement benefits.”
The specific change to Hoeppner’s benefits was not publicized.
Hoeppner was the first U.S. bishop investigated under the Vatican’s new procedures for accountability, known as Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which mandates any allegation of abuse or abuse coverup against a bishop be investigated.
Cozzens was installed as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Crookston – comprising 14 northwest counties of Minnesota with more than 32,000 Catholics and 66 parishes – last October.
In his letter, Cozzens acknowledged that in his first few months as Crookston’s shepherd he has heard from the laity and clergy about the need to restore trust in diocesan leadership, and that it has come up often in the synod process. That reality was an impetus for the letter, he said.
“I know how important it is to act on principles which can help to restore this trust – principles like listening to victim/survivors of abuse and putting their needs first, involving qualified laity to help make decisions, and being transparent about decisions and the reasons for them,” Cozzens said. “I have prayed and consulted about how to do these things, and today, in the spirit of that transparency, I write to offer clarity about questions which remained regarding the statuses of Monsignor Roger Grundhaus and Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner.”
Grundhaus is at the center of Hoeppner’s Vos Estis investigation. Hoeppner was accused of stating that Grundhaus was fit for ministry while allegedly knowing that Grundhaus had abused a 16-year-old boy in the early 1970s. Hoeppner was also accused of coercing the alleged victim into signing a statement recanting the allegation.
Grundhaus hasn’t been permitted to engage in public ministry since May 2017 after a Diocese of Crookston Ministerial Review Board (MRB) investigation.
The MRB found insufficient evidence to form a basis that Grundhaus engaged in behavior that constituted sexual abuse under canon law, or a crime under civil law. However, it was concluded that Grundhaus engaged in inappropriate activity that “showed poor judgment and some level of impropriety with a young man,” according to Cozzens letter. Therefore, the letter continued, it was determined that Grundhaus “acted highly inappropriately and in a way that caused lasting harm to individuals and scandal in the diocese,” which resulted in the decision to prohibit him from engaging in public ministry.
Cozzens said he agrees with this assessment, and barred Grundhaus from public ministry for at least another year.
“Based on my own review of the entire affair, I agree with this assessment,” Cozzens said. “Monsignor Grundaus does not have the faculties for public ministry in the Diocese of Crookston. “This declaration remains in effect for one year and will be reviewed at that time to determine if it should continue.”
Cozzens further noted that the circumstances surrounding Grundaus’s situation do not fit the diocese’s definition of a credible claim of sexual abuse against a minor, “so his name will not appear on the list of disclosures found on our diocesan website.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg