The diocese of Crookston, Minnesota is settling 15 different cases alleging sexual abuse with a $5 million dollar settlement that will help the diocese avoid bankruptcy.
The lawsuits were brought against the diocese between April 2016 and May 2017 and referenced alleged incidents that occurred between the four-decade span of 1969-2009. This occurred after the Minnesota Child Victims Act was signed into law, which lifted the statute of limitations on these types of crimes.
Victims previously had only three years to sue before the statute of limitations expired, but that has since changed, and the Catholic Church has to pay up as a result. Clergy named in the lawsuits include Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, Fr. Patrick Sullivan, Fr. James Porter, Fr. James Bernauer, Fr. Stanley Bourassa, and Fr. James Vincent Fitzgerald, OMI.
The diocese noted in a press release that most of their expenses from paying off the alleged victims will come from insurance, with the rest being raised from the sale of properties and estate gifts. The Crookston diocese will not take a large financial hit due to this settlement.
“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,” Bp. Michael Hoeppner said in the official statement released by the diocese.
“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,” he added.
Hoeppner claims that the diocese is serious about ending sexual abuse within their ranks despite the 15 alleged instances that occurred over the span of four decades in Crookston.
“We can joyfully and steadfastly continue our mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to this time and place. We pledge our continued efforts to rid the Church and world of sexual abuse and provide a safe environment for all,” he said to conclude his statement.
However, Church Militant points out that Hoeppner’s record makes his rhetoric against sex abuse ring hollow. He has faced allegations that he has helped cover up sexual abuse in the past.
Hoeppner settled a lawsuit in 2017 with Ron Vasek after being accused of blackmailing the Vasek in an attempt to silence claims of abuse against a high-ranking priest. Hoeppner allegedly coerced Vasek into signing a letter retracting sexual assault claims against Msgr. Roger Grundhaus.
“I thought if I signed this letter, it’s a lie,” Vasek said in 2017. “And I knew it was a lie. I couldn’t sign that letter, I didn’t want to sign that letter at all.”
“I signed that letter to protect my son, because I knew how evil a man the bishop could be if he wanted to be,” he explained.
Evidence also points to Hoeppner knowing about sexual assault claims against Fr. Leland Smith while he served vicar general in Winona. He allegedly knew about the claims as early as 2002, but kept his mouth shut.
“How many other credibly accused predator priests, in Winona or Crookston or elsewhere, is he [Hoeppner] protecting now,” the Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) asked.
Hoeppner is opposing the Roman Catholic Revival, an event that will take place featuring Michael Voris and Church Militant in Wildwood City Park, Crookston on Saturday, Sept. 14. Hoeppner claims the “divisive tactics” of Church Militant are “more destructive than fruitful” and “contrary to our call to live as missionary disciples.”
“As Shepherd of the Diocese of Crookston, I want you to know the Diocese of Crookston is not sponsoring the event ‘Roman Catholic Revival Crookston’ and does not endorse nor recommend participation at the event, as I think it will be more harmful than helpful,” Hoeppner said.
Considering his track record of papering over abuse claims and perhaps even covering them up, Hoepper’s condemnation could be considered an endorsement of sorts for the upcoming revivalist event.
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