Minnesota bishop accused of coercion in clergy abuse case

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Lawsuit accuses Crookston bishop of threatening alleged abuse victim and failing to report abuse. 

Patty Vasek looked on as her husband Ron Vasek said he was abused by Msgr. Roger Grundhaus at 16 and how 46 years later, as Ron studied to become a deacon, Bishop Hoeppner threatened to prevent him from becoming a deacon

Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner threatened to retaliate against a man who told him that a former top official in the Crookston diocese had sexually molested him as a child, according to a lawsuit filed in Polk County district court.

It marks the first time in the nation that a U.S. bishop has been individually sued for coercion in a clergy abuse lawsuit, said attorney Jeff Anderson, who is holding a news conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed by Ronald Vasek, also claims that the bishop failed to release the sex abuse allegation against the now-retired Monsignor Roger Grundhaus as required by a 2015 court order.

“The coercion and concealment in real-time demonstrates the crisis continues, ” said Anderson.

More than 500 claims of sex abuse by Minnesota clergy have been made in the past four years, most through a three-year law that allowed older civil cases to be filed. Catholic leaders across the state have said that the abuse scandal is in the past, and that reforms have been made.

The lawsuit, however, claims that Vasek met with Hoeppner in 2010 and reported that Grundhaus has engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with him in about 1971. Vasek was 16 at the time, and had been invited to accompany Grundhaus on a trip to Ohio for a meeting of canon lawyers, the complaint says.

Bishop Hoeppner

Vasek also reportedly asked the bishop how the allegation would affect his involvement in the diocese’s church deacon program. The bishop told him it wouldn’t be a problem, the complaint says, as long as he didn’t tell anyone else.

Grundhaus’ abuse report apparently was put in the diocese’s then-confidential abuse files.

In 2014, those files were supposed to be made public as part of a court order from a different clergy abuse case. In October of 2015, Vasek claims that the bishop summoned him to his private residence.

The bishop asked Vasek to sign a diocese-written letter retracting the abuse allegation, according to the complaint, because “Msgr. Grundhaus was unable to minister in the other diocese because they had plaintiff’s report of abuse in their files.”

The letter was authored by Msgr. Michael Foltz, the Crookston diocese vicar general, the lawsuit says. Vasek said he was threatened with retaliation if he didn’t sign it.

According to the complaint: “The bishop indicated to the plaintiff that if he should refuse to sign the letter, the bishop would have difficulty ordaining plaintiff as a deacon … and that plaintiff’s son’s priesthood in the Diocese of Crookston would be negatively impacted.”

Since 2014, Crookston has released the names of six priests who were credibly accused of sexually molesting minors. Grundhaus is not on that list. The diocese also is as a defendant in the lawsuit.

At the news conference, Vasek and his son will speak publicly for the first time about the incident.

The Crookston Diocese said it is “deeply saddened and troubled” by the allegations, and plans to “conduct a thorough investigation into this matter.”

“Bishop Hoeppner categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek not to pursue his allegations regarding Mons. Grundhaus,’’ the diocese said in a written statement.

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