Former Winona diocese official faces lawsuit
By Kay Fate
May 9, 2017
ST. PAUL — A former vicar general for the Diocese of Winona is expected to be named today as a defendant in a lawsuit that alleges he suppressed a report of child sexual abuse.
Michael Joseph Hoeppner, 67, now the Bishop of the Diocese of Crookston, is the first bishop in the United States to be individually sued for coercion, said Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who's represented hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse.
Hoeppner was vicar general at Winona from about 1998 until being named bishop at Crookston in 2007, church records show.
The survivor, who was participating in a program to become a deacon in the Catholic Church, allegedly told Hoeppner in 2010 that he'd been sexually assaulted in about 1971 by Roger Grundhaus, who was vicar general at the diocese at the time.
Instead of investigating the claim, Hoeppner advised the survivor to tell no one of his abuse and threatened his future with the church, Anderson said.
"He made him sign a false declaration saying that he was not sexually abused," said Patrick Wall, a victims' advocate for Anderson. "If he didn't sign it, (Hoeppner) wouldn't ordain him as a deacon and would penalize his son — who was a priest of the (Crookston) diocese under Hoeppner."
In 2015, the diocese was ordered to produce all information on clergy accused of child sexual abuse before 1985; however, Grundhaus' name was not included in the required, court-ordered disclosure.
After the court order was issued, the bishop actively suppressed the survivor's abuse report, the lawsuit says.
The survivor, his son and a former chancellor with the Crookston Diocese are expected to speak against Hoeppner during a news conference today in St. Paul, Anderson said, describing the threatened retaliation against the survivor and his son.
The diocese also is expected to be named as a defendant in the civil suit.
"The coercion and concealment in real-time demonstrates the crisis continues unabated," Anderson said.
A call this morning seeking comment from the Crookston Diocese was not immediately returned.
Hoeppner was born in Winona and was ordained there in 1975, according to his online biography. He served as judicial vicar for the diocese until his appointment to vicar general, where he would have been tasked with working on investigations of sexual abuse allegations for the Winona Diocese.
Among Hoeppner's assignments were stints as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, West Concord; pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish, Claremont; associate pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Winona; pastor of St. Paul Parish, Minnesota City; pastor of St. Casimir Parish, Winona; pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Lewiston; and pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Altura.
He was a faculty member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, Winona; principal of Pacelli High School and at Queen of Angels Parish, Austin; administrator of Queen of Peace Parish, Lyle; and chaplain at Sacred Heart Hospice, Austin.