In his deposition, Hoeppner testified that Vasek came to him in September 2011 to report the abuse. The bishop alleges that he asked Vasek if he wanted it to be made public, and Vasek said “absolutely not.”
Canon law requires a bishop to investigate all allegations of sexual abuse of minors, and to involve the diocesan review board, regardless of whether the alleged victim asks for an investigation. Hoeppner said he did initially not do that because Vasek wanted the allegation to remain “confidential.”
Hoeppner admitted in the deposition he understood himself to be violating Church norms, but said he did so to maintain confidentiality. It is not clear whether the bishop also violated Minnesota statutes regarding the mandatory reporting of child abuse.
In addition to the bishop's failure to properly handle the allegation of abuse, Vasek alleges, Hoeppner coerced him into recanting his claim.
The bishop called Vasek to his residence for a meeting in Oct. 2015, shortly before Vasek was scheduled to be ordained a deacon.
Vasek claims Hoeppner at that meeting ordered him to sign a letter, printed on diocesan stationary, recanting his allegations against Grundhaus.
The letter read: “I, Ron Vasek, regarding a trip I was on when I was 16 years old, and on which a priest of the Diocese of Crookston was also participating, clearly and freely state that I have no desire to nor do I make any accusation of sexual impropriety by the priest toward me.”
Hoeppner explained that the Fargo diocese had inquired about Vasek’s allegation against Grundhaus, and intended to forbid the priest from exercising ministry within its territory, Vasek told CNA last year.
“We want to have Grundhaus be able to do ministry,” Vasek said Hoeppner told him, “so we need to have you sign a letter recanting your allegation.”
Vasek said that also Hoeppner asked him, “If news of the scandal of Grundhaus gets out, how could I ordain you? Who would want you? Where would I put you? And besides, it would be very difficult on your son.”
Feeling coerced into doing so, Vasek signed the letter.
A priest in the Crookston diocese told CNA he believes Hoeppner coerced Vasek into recanting his claim against Grundhaus so that the priest would not need to included on a court-ordered list of alleged to have abused children prior to 1985.
Hoeppner said in his deposition that he during the meeting he offered to let Vasek put down his accusation in writing for the vicar general, but denies the claim that Vasek was being coerced.
The bishop also testified that he didn’t have the letter prepared in advance, but rather he had Vasek come back the next morning to sign it. He admitted that it was his idea to have Vasek sign the letter, and claimed that he didn’t save the file for the letter on his computer because it was “confidential.” He then, when shown a copy of the letter, claimed that he had Vasek backdate it for the previous day because that was the date they allegedly had their meeting.
He testified that he left Grundhaus’ name off the list of accused priests because, in his mind, no accusation had yet been brought forth— the accusation he had heard from Vasek in 2011 was still “confidential,” he said.
He added that he didn’t have the court order in mind “at all” when he met with Vasek in Oct. 2015.
During the Nov. 5 press conference, attorney Jeff Anderson called for the removal of Hoeppner from his post as Bishop of Crookston.
In a Nov. 5 statement, the diocese said that Hoeppner has “fully cooperated” with the canonical investigation into his leadership, and with the conditions of its recent legal settlements.
Regarding the investigation, the diocese said that “we await a response and remain hopeful that justice will prevail for all impacted by this action.”
In July, after a legal settlement was reached, Hoeppner offered another statement.
“To all victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as the Bishop of Crookston I apologize for the harm done to you by those entrusted with your spiritual care. Although you can never be fully compensated for your suffering, we are thankful this litigation has now come to a good end and are hopeful this settlement offers you justice and will be helpful for healing.”
For his part, Vasek called for broader reforms.
“There is a huge problem in the Church. Active homosexual activity by priests and the secrecy of this sin must be revealed, and the holy priesthood must be restored to what Jesus said it ought to be,” Vasek said.
“The dark secret coverup of homosexual behavior has been under the radar for many years. Now the darkness is coming to light,” he added.
Vasek also discussed the effects of the abuse he suffered.
For a long time, he said, “I was suffering from the disordered belief that it was my fault, what happened.” That belief led Vasek to struggles with alcohol and confusion about his own sexuality, and even to have insecurities about caring for his children.
“Not understanding the effects of my abuse prevented me from becoming the father I should have been.”
While Vasek promised prayers for his abuser and his bishop, he also had a message for them.
“To the priests who have caused this: shame on you.”
“All of you priests, bishops, and cardinals who have forgotten your sacred vows, and allowed this abuse to continue: shame on you.”
This story is developing and will be updated.