Former Crookston bishop apologizes for failures in governance

Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston Credit Diocese of Crookston CNA file photo Bishop Michael Hoeppner. CNA file photo.

Bishop Michael Hoeppner, who has resigned as Bishop of Crookston after being accused of mishandling cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct, apologized Tuesday for his failures at governing the diocese.

“The Church describes the ministry of a diocesan bishop as teaching, sanctifying and governing. It has been a joy and a blessing for me to have served as your bishop for the past 13+ years. I apologize to you, as I have apologized to our Holy Father, for my failures in governing as bishop,” Bishop Hoeppner wrote in an April 13 letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Crookston.

The resignation of Bishop Hoeppner had been accepted earlier that day.

Bishop Hoeppner, 71, was the first U.S. bishop to be investigated under Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ 2019 norms on investigating bishops accused of mishandling or obstructing allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

The bishop is reported to have pressured an alleged victim to drop his allegation of abuse against a priest, failed to follow mandatory reporting laws, and neglected to follow protocols designed to monitor priests accused of misconduct.

In his letter, Bishop Hoeppner wrote that Pope Francis had asked for his resignation, which “comes as a result of the investigation into reports that I, '…at times, failed to observe applicable norms when presented with allegations of sexual abuse involving clergy of the Diocese of Crookston.'”

He added his appreciation of “the many good things and blessings that God has showered upon us these past years … In our world of today where so many are confused about so many things, it is important that the truth of the Gospel and the Church’s Tradition be clearly presented for all to hear. I have enjoyed celebrating the Sacraments in the many wonderful parishes throughout our diocese.”

The bishop thanked “all the wonderful people with whom I have had the privilege to work these years,” particularly “the members of the diocesan curia and diocesan staff. It has been a delight to come to work each day and engage with such wonderful, dedicated people in the work of the Church.”

He announced his plan for the immediate future is to move with his sister to a warmer climate, and added, “I look forward to returning to Crookston for personal visits and will await the appointment of a new bishop here to determine other activity.”

“You who are the local Church of Crookston, will always be the premiere diocese for me. You have heard me say, and it is true, 'I am a blessed bishop.' And, it is as true today as the day I said it at my ordaination [sic] as your bishop, 'you have a bishop who loves you.' Be assured, I will continue to keep you all in my prayers each day. May God continue to be with you and bless you always.”

Bishop Richard Pates, Bishop Emeritus of Des Moines, has been appointed apostolic administrator of Crookston.

A report on the Vos estis investigation of Bishop Hoeppner was sent to Rome in late October 2019, and in February 2020, the Crookston diocese announced that the Vatican had ordered an additional investigation into the bishop.

Both investigations were conducted by Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

Bishop Hoeppner was not permitted to oversee sexual abuse cases in his diocese during the second investigation.

In depositions released in November 2019 as part of a legal settlement, Bishop Hoeppner is seen to admit to several of the charges against him. In those depositions, Bishop Hoeppner also defended a diocesan decision to allow a priest to remain in ministry, without notifying parents or parishioners, after the priest admitted that while he was teenager he had sexually abused a younger child.

The announcement in early 2020 about a second investigation into Bishop Hoeppner followed several months in which local Catholics called for Bishop Hoeppner’s resignation, and accused him of mistreating a popular priest removed from ministry under vague terms.

Priests in the diocese told CNA at the time that they expected Bishop Hoeppner to be removed from office, and that given the bishop’s record, the credibility of the Vos estis procedures could be called into question were he eventually permitted to remain in office.

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Vos estis lux mundi allows the Vatican “to provide for a supplementary investigation” after initial steps are taken, if Vatican officials deem it necessary.

There are currently several Vos estis investigations going on in dioceses in the U.S.

In 2021, announcements were made about Vos estis investigations into Bishop John Brungardt of Dodge City and Bishop Howard Hubbard, Bishop Emeritus of Albany.

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