Hoeppner is first bishop to be sued for coercion, case dates back to 1971
The former Vicar General of the Diocese of Crookston, Father Roger Grundhaus, is being accused of child sexual abuse and Minnesota Bishop Michael Hoeppner is the first bishop to be sued for coercion for suppressing a report of abuse, according to a media advisory by Jeff Anderson and Associates attorney's office.
At a news conference Tuesday in St. Paul, attorney Jeff Anderson, a child abuse survivor, and a Minnesota priest announced the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of the survivor, Ronald Vasek, naming Bishop Hoeppner and the Diocese of Crookston as defendants.
This is the first time in the United States a bishop has been individually sued for coercion.
According to the release, in 2010, Vasek, who was exploring whether to become a church Deacon, reported his abuse by Fr. Roger Grundhaus in approximately 1971 to Bishop Hoeppner. Hoeppner advised the survivor to tell no one of the sexual abuse. In 2015, the Diocese of Crookston was court ordered to produce all information on clergy accused of child sexual abuse. However, Fr. Grundhaus was not included in the required, court-ordered disclosure.
After the court order was issued, the bishop actively suppressed the survivor’s abuse report by threatening harm to his vocation as a deacon and his son’s career as a priest in the Diocese of Crookston, and coercing the survivor into signing a document stating the sexual abuse never happened, said the release.
"I signed that letter to protect my son," said Vasek during Tuesday's press conference in St. Paul. "I left and felt that I had been abused all over again."
"I knew how evil and mad the Bishop could be if he wanted to be," Vasek also said. "I was about to be ordained as a Deacon in a church I love and still love. I'm a man about truth. For whatever reason I've carried this burden."
"There might be a lot of other people out there like me," he continued. "When this sex abuse stuff came out, some of it has been cleaned up but many hasn't."
The plaintiff, Vasek, demands judgment against the defendants, Hoeppner and Diocese, in excess of $50,000, plus costs, disbursements, reasonable attorneys’ fees, interest, and other further relief as the court deems just and equitable.
A separate criminal report has been filed with local law enforcement against Bishop Hoeppner and it is currently undetermined if criminal charges will arise.
A representative of the Jeff Anderson and Associates PA office, Mike Finnegan, told the Times that it is “highly unlikely” that Father Grundhaus will be charged criminally as an individual because of statutes from the 1970s.
"This is the first time Grundhaus' name has been revealed," said Jeff Anderson during Tuesday's press conference. "There's a probability that others are suffering in silence."
"Grundhaus has continued to be in 'good standing' with the Diocese and practiced as recently as this Easter," he added.
Hoeppner and the Diocese of Crookston are charged with seven counts in the coercion lawsuit including:
• Count 1: Coercion against Bishop Hoeppner
• Count 2: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
• Count 3: Nuisance
• Count 4: Nuisance
• Count 5: Negligence
• Count 6: Negligent Supervision
• Count 7: Negligent Retention
The complaint says that the victim, Vasek, was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family and attended Holy Trinity in Tabor, Minnesota, in the Diocese of Crookston. Vasek and his family came in contact with Msgr. Grundhaus as an agent and representative of the Diocese. It says the plaintiff “developed great admiration, truth, reverence, and respect” for the church including the Diocese and their agents, including Grundhaus.
According to the complaint, in approximately 1971, when Vasek was 16 years old, Msgr. Grundhaus engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with Vasek in Columbus, Ohio while he accompanied Grundhaus to a meeting of canon lawyers. In approximately 2009 or 2010, Vasek disclosed the abuse to a priest in another diocese while he was considering becoming a member of the diaconate program in the Diocese of Crookston. The priest from the other diocese reported the abuse to the Vicar General of his diocese who then contacted Bishop Hoeppner of the Diocese of Crookston.
Bishop Hoeppner then scheduled an in-person meeting with Vasek at the Diocese of Crookston Chancery. During this meeting, Vasek told Bishop Hoeppner that Grundhaus had sexually abused him in Columbus, Ohio, when Vasek was a minor. Bishop Hoeppner asked Vasek how he was going to proceed with the accusation and whether Vasek intended to formally report the abuse or attempt to press charges against Msgr. Grundhaus. Bishop Hoeppner indicated to Vasek that it would be detrimental to Msgr. Grundhaus and his reputation in the Diocese if the accusations were made public.
Throughout the meeting, Hoeppner communicated to Vasek that he was not to tell anyone about the abuse, including his wife. When Vasek allegedly asked how his diaconate program would be impacted by the incident of abuse, Bishop Hoeppner indicated that it would not be a problem so long as Vasek did not mention the abuse to anyone else. When Vasek left the meeting, he felt pressure from Bishop Hoeppner not to disclose the abuse to anyone else, said the complaint.
In approximately 2011, Vasek entered the diaconate program in the Diocese of Crookston. On approximately July 10, 2010, Vasek’s son was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Crookston where he continues to work today.
In October of 2015, Vasek received a phone call from Bishop Hoeppner inviting him to the Bishop’s private residence for a meeting. When Vasek arrived, the Bishop indicated to Vasek that Msgr. Grundhaus was unable to minister in the other diocese because they had Vasek’s report of abuse in their files. Bishop Hoeppner handed Vasek a letter authored by Msgr. Michael Foltz, Vicar General of the Diocese of Crookston, which essentially retracted Vasek’s statements regarding the sexual abuse involving Msgr. Grundhaus and indicated that the abuse in Ohio never happened. The Bishop told Vasek that he should sign the letter and that they needed it for the Diocese’s files.
The Bishop indicated to Vasek that if he should refuse to sign the letter, the Bishop would have difficulty ordaining Vasek as a deacon for the Diocese of Crookston and that Vasek’s son’s priesthood in the Diocese of Crookston would be negatively impacted, said the complaint.
Bishop Hoeppner insisted several times that Vasek sign the letter despite the falsity of its contents and despite Vasek’s initial refusal. In light of the Bishop’s threats to Vasek’s profession as a deacon and his son’s priesthood, Vasek felt that he had no choice and was eventually coerced by the Bishop to sign the letter. The Bishop indicated that he would keep the letter in his vault in case he ever needed it.
The complaint says that due to Bishop Hoeppner’s threats to Vasek’s participation and success in the diaconate program and to his son’s priesthood and his coercion in obtaining Vasek’s signature on the letter retracting the report of abuse, Vasek was prevented from reporting the incident of abuse by Msgr. Grundhaus to civil authorities and from obtaining legal counsel prior to May 25, 2016 in order to file a timely civil claim under the Minnesota Child Victims Act.
Since 2014, according to the complaint, the Diocese of Crookston has publicly admitted that it knew of seven priests who worked in the Diocese who were credibly accused of sexually molesting minors.