US Bishop Hoeppner resigns after Vatican probe into cover-up
ROME — A Minnesota bishop who was investigated by the Vatican for allegedly interfering with past investigations into clergy sexual abuse has resigned, the Vatican said Tuesday.
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Hoeppner and named a temporary replacement to run the Crookston diocese, the Holy See said in a statement. Hoeppner is 71, four years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops.
The Vatican did not say why Francis accepted the resignation, but the Vatican in 2019 authorized an investigation into claims that Hoeppner had engaged in “acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct.”
The Vatican tasked St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda with conducting the preliminary investigation. Last year, Hebda’s office announced that the Holy See had authorized a more in-depth probe.
Hoeppner is accused of stating that a priest, Monsignor Roger Grundhaus, was fit for ministry despite allegedly knowing the priest had abused a 16-year-old boy in the early 1970s. The victim, Ron Vasek, later sued the diocese, alleging that Hoeppner blackmailed him into retracting his allegations against the priest. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2017.
Hoeppner was the first bishop known to be investigated by the Vatican under a 2019 law that Francis approved laying out the procedures to conduct preliminary investigations against bishops accused of sex abuse or cover-up.
He has said in sworn testimony that he was trying to protect the victim’s confidentiality by stating that Grundhaus was fit for ministry. He has said Grundhaus continues to deny Vasek’s allegations.
There was no immediate comment from either the Crookston diocese or the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Hoeppner’s resignation and the appointment of the Most Rev. Richard E. Pate, the retired bishop of Des Moines, as a temporary administrator without commenting on the reason for the change.
The diocese of Crookston counts nearly 35,000 Catholics in a population of 278,000 people in northern Minnesota.
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