Vatican City, Jan 14, 2020 / 16:30 pm
Alongside bishops from North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota, Bishop Michael Hoeppner met with Pope Francis Tuesday, for a two-hour meeting some bishops called “open,” and “hopeful.”
But Hoeppner is unique among his brother bishops: he is the first U.S. bishop to be investigated under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi, the 2019 policy from Pope Francis on investigating bishops accused of mishandling or obstructing allegations of clerical sexual abuse. In fact, alongside Hoeppner at the Jan. 13 papal meeting was Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the archbishop who conducted the investigation.
But while the Vatican authorized the investigation in September, and a report was sent to Rome in early November, it is unclear when the Vatican will announce the results of the investigation, and the next steps in the scandal-plagued tenure of Bishop Hoeppner.
There are no legal timeframes in which the Vatican is required to respond to Hebda’s report, and no indications of when a response will be issued. But as the question of Hoeppner’s future lingers unanswered, the Diocese of Crookston continues to face serious difficulties.
In November, depositions were released in which Hoeppner is seen to admit that he did not properly address an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest that an alleged victim brought to him in 2011. The depositions also include Hoeppner seeming to admit to mishandling the cases of several priests, including one, presently in active ministry, who admitted to diocesan officials that he had sexually abused a 5-year-old while a teenager.
In more recent weeks, sources in the diocese tell CNA, a dispute over a priest removed from ministry for alleged boundary violations has become something of a flash point in the diocese. Several priests have told CNA that in their view, Hoeppner removed Fr. Bryan Kujawa from ministry unjustly, sending him for psychological testing after the anonymous allegation of a boundary violation with an adult — a charge that Kujawa denies. The priest says he has been given no opportunity to defend himself.
Some sources note that Kujawa has been a “voice of conscience” in the diocese, and speculate that the priest has been unfairly targeted by Hoeppner because he has been outspoken about the revelations contained in the November depositions.
While the Kujawa case has apparently become both demoralizing and contentious among Crookston’s priests, it has also captured the attention of Crookston’s lay Catholics, who have planned prayer vigils outside the cathedral and other demonstrations in support of the priest.