Pope Francis accepts Bishop Michael Hoeppner's resignation following investigation

Times Report and Associated Press
Crookston Times

    The Diocese of Crookston announced Tuesday that after an extensive investigation the Holy Father, Pope Francis, asked for and has now accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Hoeppner from the pastoral governance of the Diocese. Pope Francis also appointed the Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, Bishop Emeritus of Des Moines, to serve as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Crookston until a new bishop is designated.

    An investigation of Bishop Hoeppner was promulgated by Pope Francis in mid-2019 and was conducted under the supervision of Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis which includes the Diocese of Crookston. The investigation, which led to the acceptance of Bishop Hoeppner’s resignation, arose from reports that he had, at times, failed to observe “applicable norms” when presented with allegations of sexual abuse involving clergy of the Diocese of Crookston.

    Hoeppner is accused of stating that a priest was fit for ministry despite allegedly knowing the priest had abused a 16-year-old boy in the early 1970s. The victim, Ron Vasek, later sued the diocese, alleging that Hoeppner blackmailed him into retracting his allegations against Monsignor Roger Grundhaus. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2017.

    Hoeppner was the first bishop known to be investigated by the Vatican under a 2019 law that Francis approved laying out the procedures to conduct preliminary investigations against bishops accused of sex abuse or cover-up.

    He has said in sworn testimony that he was trying to protect the victim's confidentiality by stating that Grundhaus was fit for ministry. He has said Grundhaus continues to deny Vasek's allegations.

    Hebda's office said the investigation took 2,000 hours, involved interviews with 38 people and that Hoeppner was interviewed more than once. The resulting reports totaled 1,533 pages, including recommendations, and were reviewed by two lay experts who determined the probe was thorough and had been "conducted in a fair and impartial manner," the archdiocese said.

    SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sent out a release saying Bishop Hoeppner was able to resign before the results of the investigation were made public.

    “We are glad that one less diocese in the US is led by a prelate who put their reputation over the protection of children,” said the release. “We would have preferred, however, if Catholic officials in the Vatican had moved to fire Bishop Michael Hoeppner instead of asking for his resignation.”

    SNAP said they hope the results of the investigation will still be released and that the Vatican will not use Hoeppner’s resignation as an excuse to keep the facts from being made public.

    “More importantly, we hope that the situation in Crookston will be investigated by secular authorities like Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, especially if the report on Bishop Hoeppner’s wrongdoing is not released by Catholic officials voluntarily.”