Lawsuit: Minnesota bishop coerced hopeful deacon into abuse cover-up

A man who claims he was sexually abused by a Minnesota priest in 1971 is filing a lawsuit against Bishop Michael Hoeppner and the Diocese of Crookston, alleging the bishop coerced him into signing a document stating the abuse never happened. St. Paul, Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson says this the first time a bishop has been sued for coercion in the United States.

According to the civil complaint filed in Polk County, Minnesota, Ronald Vasek was exploring whether to become a deacon in 2010 when he reported the alleged abuse to Bishop Hoeppner.

According to court documents, Vasek told Bishop Hoeppner that Fr. Roger Grundhaus had sexually abused him in Columbus, Ohio when he was 16 years old. Hoeppner allegedly asked Vasek “how he was going to proceed with the accusation” and whether he intended to formally report the abuse or press charges, adding that “it would be detrimental to Msgr. Grundhaus and his reputation in the Diocese if the accusations were made public.”

Vasek claims the bishop recommended he keep quiet, and that his future as a deacon and his son’s future as a priest in the Diocese of Crookston would be in jeopardy if he went public with his allegations.

Bishop Hoeppner allegedly gave Vasek a letter authored by Msgr. Michael Foltz, Vicar General of the Diocese of Crookston, which “essentially retracted” his statements regarding the sexual abuse involving Grundhaus and “indicated that the abuse in Ohio never happened.”

The bishop told Vasek that he should sign the letter and that they needed a copy for the Diocese's files.

“The Bishop indicated to Plaintiff that if he should refuse to sign the letter, the Bishop would have difficulty ordaining Plaintiff as a deacon for the Diocese of Crookston and that Plaintiff s son's priesthood in the Diocese of Crookston would be negatively impacted,” the lawsuit states.

In addition to financial damages, the lawsuit seeks an order requiring the Diocese of Crookston to publicly release the names of all priests and other employees accused of child molestation, their history of abuse, and their last known address.  The lawsuit also seeks an order to direct the Diocese to work with authorities to create a policy to better protect children from further harm.

The Diocese of Crookston issued a statement in response to the lawsuit on Tuesday. The Diocese says it plans to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations.

The Diocese is asking anyone with information regarding the abuse or exploitation of children or young people to contact law enforcement or the Diocese of Crookston Victim's Assistance Coordinator, Louann McGlynn at 218-281-7895 immediately. 

Statement from the Diocese of Crookston

Bishop Hoeppner and other diocesan leaders are deeply saddened and troubled about the allegations made today by Ron Vasek. 

The Diocese of Crookston takes all allegations of sexual abuse very seriously. Mr. Vasek's allegation of sexual abuse dates to 1971 and involves Msgr. Roger Grundhaus. Msgr. Grundhaus hsa been retired since July 1, 2010 and is currently suspended from active ministry. 

Mr. Vasek has also alleged that Bishop Hoepnner coerced him into signing a document against his will and to not pursue the reporting of the allegations against Msgr. Grundhaus. Bishop Hoeppner categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek to not pursue his allegations regarding Msgr. Grundhaus. Mr. Vasek's allegations of abuse regarding Msgr. Grundhaus were reported to law enforcement in 2011. 

The Diocese of Crookston plans to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter. It would not be appropriate to comment further until that investigation has been completed. 

The Diocese of Crookston is committed to the protection of children and the safe environment of our schools, parishes and communities. The Diocese of Crookston encourages anyone with information regarding the abuse or exploitation of children or young people to immediately report that information to law enforcement or the Diocese of Crookston Victim's Assistance Coordinator, Louann McGlynn at 218-281-7895. The Diocese of Crookston has fully adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

Bishop Hoepnner asks that all those involved be kept in prayer during this difficult time.