In lawsuit, man says he and son were threatened.
the Star Trubune
May 10, 2017 — 5:36am
Ron Vasek said all he wanted was to become a church deacon and support his son, a Catholic priest. But in a lawsuit filed this week, Vasek claims that Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner threatened to undermine his religious work and his son’s if he didn’t retract a clergy abuse claim.
It’s among the allegations in an unusual lawsuit that, for the first time, accuses a U.S. bishop of coercion in a clergy abuse case, said Vasek’s attorney Jeff Anderson.
Equally unusual was the presence of a current Catholic priest, the head of the Crookston diocese deacon formation program, standing next to Vasek at a Tuesday news conference announcing the legal action.
“I felt like I was being re-abused all over again,” said an emotional Vasek, recalling the day in 2015 that he said the bishop asked him to sign a letter rescinding his abuse claim against Monsignor Roger Grundhaus.
“I signed that letter to protect my son,” Vasek said.
The Crookston diocese said it is “deeply saddened” by the allegations, and plans to “conduct a thorough investigation into this matter.” It said it had reported the alleged abuse to law enforcement in 2011.
“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 statement.
Grundhaus is a well-known priest and former vicar general at the Crookston diocese. He retired in 2010, the diocese said, but still works as a substitute priest, Anderson said.
Grundhaus said he would not comment on the matter, based on legal advice.
The lawsuit, filed in Polk County District Court, also claims that the bishop failed to make the sex abuse allegation against Grundhaus public as required by a 2015 court order.
“The coercion and concealment in real-time demonstrates the abuse 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 law that allowed older civil cases to be filed over three years ending in 2016. Catholic leaders have said that the abuse scandal is in the past, and that reforms have been made.
Since 2014, Crookston has released the names of six priests credibly accused of sexually molesting minors. Grundhaus is not on that list.
The lawsuit claims that Vasek met with Hoeppner in 2010 as he was considering enrolling in the diocese’s deacon formation program.
Vasek said he told the bishop that Grundhaus had sexual contact with him in about 1971. He was 16 at the time, and accompanied Grundhaus to Ohio for a meeting of canon lawyers.
In the meeting, Vasek said he asked how the allegation would affect his future in the deacon program. The bishop told him it wouldn’t be a problem, he said, as long as he didn’t tell anyone else.
The report apparently was put in the diocese’s then-confidential abuse files.
In August 2015, a district judge ordered those files be made public in a different abuse case. Two months later, Vasek claims 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 a plaintiff’s report of abuse in their files.”
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.”
Vasek said he was anguished about signing the letter, but did so for the sake of his son. He continued in the deacon program, whose candidates are ultimately approved by the bishop. His application was denied. By this point, Vasek said he concluded he could not pledge a vow of obedience to the bishop anyway, as required in the deacon oath.
He is now focusing on helping others who have been sexually abused by priests.
“If you can hear my voice, please come forward,” he said, speaking to TV cameras. “I will be an advocate for you.”
Priest at his side
The Rev. Bob Schreiner, the Crookston priest who oversees the deacon program, stood by Vasek’s side at a sometimes tearful news conference. He said he has known Vasek and his wife, Patty, for 28 years, and had come to know Vasek even better in the deacon program.
“I believe him,” said Schreiner, who broke down as he read a short prayer.
When asked if he was concerned about repercussions for publicly supporting Vasek, Schreiner said he was resolved to “accompany him on his journey. … The rest will fall as it may.”
Crookston Bishop accused of covering up alleged sexual abuse
CROOKSTON, MN—For the first time in the United States, a Bishop of the Catholic Church is being sued for coercion.
Bishop Michael Hoeppner is in charge of the Crookston Diocese, and sees over most of Western Minnesota.
He’s accused of forcing a Deacon candidate to stay quiet about alleged sexual abuse.
That candidate is now saying he was abused 46-years ago and again in 2015.
“What the bishop told him is “Ron you must keep this quiet,” said Jeff Anderson, Attorney.
Crookston Diocese Bishop Michael Hoeppner is facing the first lawsuit of its kind after Ron Vasek accused him of coercing him in a sex abuse coverup.
Vasek’s lawyer says the Bishop tried to force Vasek, a deacon candidate, to say he was never abused by his former priest, Roger Grundhaus.
“You can not tell anyone, it would be terrible for Father Grundhaus,” said Anderson.
Vasek says Grundhaus abused him back in 1971, but he never told anyone until 2010 when he revealed it to the church.
When a separate lawsuit against the Diocese asked for a list of any priests accused of abuse, Vasek says he was asked to sign a letter saying he wasn’t abused.
“I can’t sign this letter, it’s a lie,” said Vansek.
He claims when he refused, Bishop Hoeppner began threatening to keep him from becoming a deacon and then Vasek’s son, who’s also a priest.
“It would be very difficult for your son too. I knew at that moment he was blackmailing me.”
Vasek says he was forced to sign it.
“I signed that letter to protect my son because I know how evil a man the bishop can be,” said Vasek.
Vasek’s current priest says the Bishop then suddenly disapproved of Vasek’s candidacy as a Deacon for no reason.
“This abrupt and inexplicable turnaround was at best inexplicable to me, and at worst outrageous,” said FR. Bob Schreiner, Vasek’s Priest.
As the lawsuit begins its early stages, Vasek hopes his accusations will cause others to come forward with claims.
“To those people who have tried to report it but have been silenced to give them courage to come forward. If they can hear my voice, please come forward,” said Vasek.
Vasek wants to make it clear he is in no way upset with the Catholic Church he says he simply wants the truth to be told.
First, I commend Father Bob Schreiner for very publicly supporting Ron Vasek.
Second, it’s good that this is coming out in the open via the lawsuit.
Third, are there criminal charges which could be laid?
Finally, keep Ron Vasek in your prayers. I am sure he has a tough and painful battle ahead.