Lawsuit against Crookston diocese sees multiple judge recusals

By Andrew Hazzard
July 25, 2017

Ron Vasek (second from right) recounts how Bishop Michael Hoeppner (photo on screen) allegedly coerced Vasek to cover up sexual abuse at the hands of The Rev. Roger Grundhaus during a trip to Ohio in 1971, when Vasek was 16 years old. Vasek is accompanied by (from left) attorney Jeff Anderson, wife Patty Vasek and Fr. Bob Schreiner at a press conference in St. Paul on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.
Photo by Robb Jeffries

CROOKSTON, Minn. — A lawsuit filed by a northwest Minnesota man against against the Diocese of Crookston and its Bishop, Michael Hoeppner, saying the diocese covered up abuse and the bishop tried to coerce the victim into silence has reached its fourth judge in a series of recusals and is being contested on grounds some its counts are past the statute of limitations.

Ron Vasek says his efforts to become a deacon, the Roman Catholic Church's highest lay position, were thwarted by the diocese after he told them he was abused by in 1971 by the Rev. Roger Grundhaus when he was 16 years old and on a mission trip in Ohio and that Bishop Hoeppner asked him to sign a letter retracting his claims in 2015.

Vasek, whose son Rev. Craig Vasek is a priest in the Diocese of Crookston, signed the letter under circumstances he described as blackmail.

A suit filed on Vasek's behalf in May by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who specializes as an advocate for victims of abuse within the Catholic Church, is the first case in which a bishop has been sued for coercion, according to Anderson.

Anderson also said Grundhaus was not named in a 2014 court-mandated release by the diocese of all priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse in the past. Vasek said he told Hoeppner about Grundhaus in 2011.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 20 in front of Judge Kurt Maben in Pennington County. Maben is the fourth judge assigned to the case since it was filed May 8.

Judge Anne Rasmusson was first assigned the case and immediately recused herself May 10, according to court filings. The case was reassigned to Judge Jeffery Remick, who recused himself on May 11.

The suit moved into the court of Judge Tamara Lynn Yon, who accepted the case, but Anderson requested she recuse herself because a law firm she previously worked for had defended the Diocese of Crookston in a prior case. In a response, Yon wrote she left the firm in April 2006 to take the bench and did not work on the diocese case. After Anderson filed a formal motion to recuse, the case was reassigned to Maben.

In a response motion to the suit Bassford Remele, a Minneapolis firm representing the diocese, argues that five of the seven counts against the diocese should be dismissed on grounds that the actions took place outside of the court's jurisdiction and the accusations do not constitute a claim for relief that can be granted.

No motions have been made regarding counts accusing Hoeppner of coercion or inflicting emotional distress.

The diocese said Hoeppner denies he forced, coerced or encouraged Vasek to not report abuse.

Grundhaus went on to be a monsignor in the diocese and retired in 2010. He is currently suspended from active ministry.

Grundhaus sat on a seven-member Sexual Misconduct Policy Review Board convened in 2002 as an independent panel that examined how the diocese handled sexual misconduct among clergy.

Attorneys representing the diocese and Vasek did not respond to requests for comment.


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