Holding Bishop Hoeppner accountable
Title: A Historic Resignation
When Msgr. Roger Grundhaus wanted to baptize his niece’s baby in the cathedral of a nearby diocese, there was the simple matter of getting a letter from his bishop affirming that he was a priest in good standing.Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner of Crookston in northwest Minnesota obliged the retired priest, a former vicar general of his diocese. “He is a person of good moral character and reputation,” he wrote in 2012. “I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.”
But contrary to that blanket statement, Hoeppner had already heard allegations directly from a diaconate candidate, Ron Vasek, that Grundhaus had molested him in the early 1970s. And so, attorney Jeff Andersonconfronted the bishop with the letter during a deposition: “That’s a lie, isn’t it?”
“Counsel, can you rephrase in a non-argumentative way?” the diocesan lawyer interjected, and there was no admission from the bishop in settling the lawsuit.
This letter was part of a trail of evidence leading to the announcement that Pope Francis had asked for and received Hoeppner’s resignation as bishop, a first in the United States under the 2019 Vatican regulations designed to prevent cover-ups of clergy sexual abuse. The disclosure that the pope had “asked for” the bishop’s resignation, appearing in a statement from the Diocese of Crookston, marked a significant advance in the long effort to hold prelates accountable for concealing clergy sexual abuse.