Bishop, diocesan leaders deny coercion
By Kay Fate
May 10, 2017
ST. PAUL — A former vicar general for the Diocese of Winona accused of coercion "categorically denies" the claim that he covered up an allegation of clergy sexual assault, according to a statement released by the Diocese of Crookston, where he now is bishop.
Michael Joseph Hoeppner, 67, 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. The personal injury lawsuit was filed Tuesday.
Hoeppner was vicar general at Winona from about 1998 until being named bishop at Crookston in 2007, church records show.
In 2010, Ron Vasek was exploring the possibility of becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church when he allegedly told Hoeppner he'd been sexually assaulted in about 1971 by Roger Grundhaus.
At the time of the alleged abuse, Grundhaus was a priest at the diocese; he was vicar general of the Crookston diocese from 1991 to 2008.
Instead of investigating the claim of abuse, however, Hoeppner advised the survivor to tell no one of his abuse and threatened his future with the church, Anderson said.
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.
Hoeppner and other diocesan leaders "are deeply saddened and troubled about the allegations made today by Ron Vasek," according to a statement provided Tuesday afternoon.
The bishop in no way "forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek to not pursue his allegations regarding Msgr. Grundhaus," it says, adding the allegations were reported to law enforcement in 2011.
"Msgr. Grundhaus has been retired since July 1, 2010, and is currently suspended from active ministry," the statement continues, and the diocese "plans to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter."
Grundhaus helped draft the Diocese of Crookston's sex abuse policy in approximately 1993, according to Anderson. He was a member of the diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board in 2003-06 and the Board of Review for the Protection of Children and Young people in 2007-08. Grundhaus also worked as a priest at several Diocese of Crookston parishes. He retired in 2010 but continued to fill in and work at multiple Crookston diocese parishes for other priests who are on vacation or ill until as recently as late April 2017 — at least seven years after Vasek first reported the alleged abuse to Hoeppner.
Vasek and a former chancellor with the Crookston Diocese spoke about the case at a news conference Tuesday in St. Paul, describing the alleged threatened retaliation against Vasek and his son, an ordained priest in the diocese.
The Diocese of Crookston also was named as a defendant in the civil suit.
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.