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Lawsuit accuses Crookston bishop of coercion, cover-up

ST. PAUL--A northwest Minnesota man has filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Crookston and Bishop Michael Hoeppner, alleging a cover-up of abuse and coercion.

Ron Vasek recounts the details of his alleged sexual abuse at the hands of The Rev. Roger Grundhaus during a trip to Ohio in 1971, when Vasek was 16 years old. Vasek is accompanied by (from left) attorney Jeff Anderson, wife Patty Vasek and Fr. Bob Schreiner at a press conference in St. Paul on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Robb Jeffries / Forum News Service
Ron Vasek recounts the details of his alleged sexual abuse at the hands of The Rev. Roger Grundhaus during a trip to Ohio in 1971, when Vasek was 16 years old. Vasek is accompanied by (from left) attorney Jeff Anderson, wife Patty Vasek and Fr. Bob Schreiner at a press conference in St. Paul on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Robb Jeffries / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL-A northwest Minnesota man has filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Crookston and Bishop Michael Hoeppner, alleging a cover-up of abuse and coercion.

Ron Vasek, alongside his wife and attorney Jeff Anderson, announced his lawsuit at a press conference Tuesday where he made an emotional plea for victims to come forward and the truth to be revealed.

"He brought this suit because the truth of what has been done in the past and in the present needed to be revealed," Anderson said.

The lawsuit, filed in Polk County Monday, accuses Bishop Hoeppner of coercion and inflicting emotional distress. It levies one count of negligence, a count of negligent supervision, a count of negligent retention and two nuisance counts against the Diocese of Crookston.

In 1971, Vasek, who was raised in Tabor, Minn., claims he was sexually abused by Monsignor Roger Grundhaus while on a trip to Ohio when he was 16 years old. In 2010, his son the Rev. Craig Vasek, was ordained as priest in the Diocese of Crookston, and Ron Vasek tried to become a deacon. That's when he claims he revealed his abuse and was told by Hoeppner to stay quiet, which he believes is an act of blackmail.

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Ron Vasek did not tell anyone about the abuse and remained in the church. When he began the process of becoming a deacon within the Diocese of Crookston, he told a priest he met with from outside the diocese about his abuse, Anderson said.

That priest reported Vasek's accusation of Grundhaus to his vicar general in the diocese, who contacted Hoeppner.

Not long after that conversation, Anderson said Vasek received a call from Bishop Hoeppner.

"What the bishop told him is 'Ron you must keep this quiet,' " Anderson said.

Anderson won a lawsuit against the diocese in 2014 requiring it to name any priest who had been credibly reported as an abuser. He said Grundhaus was not on that list.

In October 2015, Vasek said he was called to a meeting at Hoeppner's home. He thought it would be about his work to become a deacon. Instead, he said, he was blackmailed.

Vasek said the bishop told him there was an order being issued to not allow Grundhaus to serve in the diocese and handed him a letter in which his claims of abuse by Grundhaus in 1971 were recanted.

He initially refused to sign it.

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"I was told 'If news of this scandal came out about Grundhaus, how could I ever ordain you? Where could I put you? Who would take you?' " an emotional Vasek said. "And then he said, 'It could be difficult for your son, who is a priest in our diocese.' I knew then I was being blackmailed."

He complied.

"I signed that letter to protect my son because I knew how evil a man the bishop could be if he wanted to be," Vasek said.

Rev. Bob Schreiner, the priest at St. Joseph’s Church in Red Lake Falls, stood with Vasek Tuesday at the press conference and voiced his support.

On March 15, Schreiner said he received a call for a meeting with the bishop. At the meeting, he was presented a letter with a signature from Vasek’s pastor withdrawing his support to have Vasek ordained as a deacon. Schreiner was shocked. He said a group of diocese priests had unanimously agreed to approve Vasek the week before.

Schreiner said he was given the task of telling Vasek the bad news, and when he did Vasek told him that he had to tell Schreiner and his wife about his abuse as a child and what he saw as sabotage against him now.

“At no point during his testimony that night or since has my intuition thought ‘that doesn’t ring true.’ ” Schreiner said.

Schreiner said he knew Vasek to be a blunt, honest man and that he believed him. Vasek held back tears and placed his hand on Schreiner’s shoulder as he spoke.

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When asked if he is worried about his position within the diocese for standing with Vasek, Schreiner said “The only peril I feel is my soul’s.”

Vasek said he loves the church and his diocese, and that he hopes to help the church by bringing the truth to light and inspiring others to come forward.

“My faith in the Catholic Church has never wavered one bit and never will,” Vasek said.

Diocese response The diocese has denied allegations that Hoeppner discouraged Vasek from reporting his abuse.

“Bishop Hoeppner categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek to not pursue his allegations regarding Monsignor Grundhaus,” the diocese said in a statement. “Mr. Vasek’s allegations of abuse regarding Monsignor Grundhaus were reported to law enforcement in 2011.”

The diocese said Grundhaus retired in July 2010 and is currently suspended from active ministry.

Anderson said Grundhaus participated in Easter services this year as a supply priest.

Past abuse The Diocese of Crookston covers 14 counties in northwest Minnesota and includes East Grand Forks, Bemidji, Moorhead, Roseau and Detroit Lakes. It has been no stranger to cases of sexual abuse. In 2015, the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul pleaded guilty to two felony counts of first-degree sexual conduct in Roseau County for abusing a 16-year-old girl in 2005.

Jeyapaul was an administrator of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush, as well as St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Middle River and St. Edward's Catholic Church in Karlstad, Minn., from the fall 2004 to the fall 2005.

Jeyapaul had to be extradited from his native India to face charges in Minnesota. He was deported following his guilty plea, as he had already served a year in prison during the trial process.

Grundhaus himself sat on a seven-member Sexual Misconduct Policy Review Board that convened in 2002 as an independent panel to examine how the diocese handled sexual misconduct among its clergy, according to Herald archives.

In 2014 the diocese released the names of six priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse over the years. The list included infamous abuser Rev. James Porter, who had more than 100 accusers, primarily in Massachusetts. Porter served briefly in the Diocese of Crookston in the 1970s.

Bishop Michael Hoeppner
Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Diocese of Crookston encourages East Grand Forks Sacred Heart Elementary school students to sing during a visit in recognition of Catholic Schools Week in this 2011 Herald file photo. During Hoeppner's visit, school officials announced an anonymous donation of $500,000 to the school. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Related Topics: CRIME
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