Skip to content

Cozzens: No Hoeppner ministry in Crookston diocese

The first U.S. bishop to resign after a Vos estis lux mundi investigation will not conduct priestly ministry in his former diocese, the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, announced to priests Monday. The diocese will also make cuts to Bishop Michael Hoeppner’s retirement compensation, and has prohibited a priest accused of sexual abuse from ministry.

Bishop Michael Hoeppner in 2007. Courtesy photo.

The moves are part of an effort by Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who was installed as Bishop of Crookston in December, to restore trust in the Church among both Crookston priests and local Catholics after their diocese endured lengthy public scandal during Hoeppner's tenure as diocesan bishop.

“When [Hoeppner] left the diocese last April, he stated that he hoped to return at the invitation of the new bishop. I have spoken with him, and he has agreed not to return to do any ministry in the diocese,” Cozzens wrote in a March 7 letter to Crookston priests, which was obtained by The Pillar. A version of that letter was subsequently published online by the Crookston diocese.

“The diocese has been asked about the financial arrangement for Bishop Hoeppner in his retirement. Last November the USCCB published renewed ‘Guidelines for the Provision of Sustenance for Bishops Emeriti’ which contained for the first-time special guidelines for ‘bishops who resigned or were removed from their ecclesiastical office due to grave acts of commission or omission as stipulated in universal law.’”

“This section has reduced benefits recognizing the fact that the bishop emeritus will not be doing any public ministry,” Cozzens added in his letter to priests.

“The Diocese of Crookston Finance Council has approved using these guidelines for Bishop Hoeppner’s retirement benefits, which means that his financial compensation will be adjusted accordingly.”

In response to questions from The Pillar, the diocese declined to specify the extent to which Hoeppner’s compensation has been cut, but pointed to USCCB recommendations that a bishop who has resigned under circumstances like Hoeppner’s receive a monthly dispersal of $1,300, which might already be provided for by a pension or retirement account, in addition to some support for housing and healthcare.

The USCCB does not recommend such a bishop be provided with a secretary or a travel budget; Cozzens’ letter would seem to indicate those benefits will not be available to Hoeppner.

And Janelle Gergen, chancellor of the Crookston diocese, told The Pillar that no decision has been made about whether Hoeppner will be permitted to be buried in the Crookston diocese, or in its cathedral. Bishops ordinarily have the right to be buried in their cathedral, but when a bishop has resigned in scandal, other arrangements can be made.

Hoeppner resigned from leadership of the Crookston diocese in April 2021, after an investigation of more than 18 months under the Vos estis lux mundi norms approved by Pope Francis in 2019. He was both the first U.S. bishop investigated under the Vos estis protocol and the first to resign after the conclusion of an investigation.

The bishop was accused of pressuring an abuse victim to recant his allegation of abuse, and of other acts of administrative negligence.

While the Vatican did not delineate the conclusion of its investigation, the Crookston diocese acknowledged when Hoeppner resigned that “the investigation which led to the acceptance of Bishop Hoeppner’s resignation arose from reports that he had at times failed to observe applicable norms when presented with allegations of sexual abuse involving clergy of the Diocese of Crookston.”

At the time of his resignation, Hoeppner caused a local stir when he celebrated a “farewell Mass” at the local cathedral, in which he preached on his sense of accomplishment in the Diocese of Crookston.

During the “Mass of Thanksgiving” for his time leading the diocese, Hoeppner said his tenure had been “a real joy and a treat, and we thank Almighty God for it this morning.”

In a letter published at the time of his resignation, Hoeppner apologized to local Catholics “as I have apologized to our Holy Father, for my failures in governing as bishop.”

The bishop said he would “move out of state to a warmer climate” with his sister, but would return to Crookston, in northwestern Minnesota, for both “personal visits” and ministry, subject to the approval of his successor.

Cozzens’ March 7 letter confirms the prospects of such ministry were not met with approval.

The investigation into Hoeppner began with a charge that in 2015, he coerced a man named Ron Vasek he coerced Vasek, then studying to become a deacon in the diocese, to recant a claim that he was molested by a Crookston priest when he was a teenager.

Hoeppner was accused of protecting the alleged abuser, Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, with whom he had a longstanding relationship, by forcing Vasek to sign a statement recanting the allegation.

In depositions released in November 2019, Hoeppner testified that he failed to order an investigation when Vasek first told him he had been abused, and that he did not contact the police. But the bishop insisted that Vasek recanted the allegation of his own initiative — a charge which Vasek denies.

Cozzens also announced Monday that Grundhaus will be prohibited from public priestly ministry, at least for one year. The priest is also prohibited from wearing clerical garb, the Crookston diocese confirmed to The Pillar Monday.

“​​I have agreed with the recommendation of the Ministerial Review Board (MRB) that Msgr. Roger Grundhaus not be allowed to engage in any public ministry. I have informed Msgr. Grundhaus of the restrictions on his ministry and told him that I would review them again in one year,” Cozzens wrote.

“This is not a decision I have taken lightly as Msgr. Grundhaus has been a revered priest of this Diocese who has served in many important roles. I made this decision after consulting our MRB, extensively studying this case, listening to Msgr. Grundhaus and others, and undertaking much Prayer.”

Because Vasek was 16 when the alleged abuse occurred in the 1970s, the canon law in force at the time would likely not have found the priest guilty of a canonical crime. Cozzens acknowledged on Monday that the priest has not been formally convicted of a canonical crime.

“Msgr. Grundhaus will not be listed on our website as a priest credibly accused of abusing a minor since he has not been found guilty of that grave delict under canon law. Nevertheless, our MRB concluded that he engaged in inappropriate activity that showed poor judgment and some level of impropriety with a young man. Because of this they recommended he not be allowed to do public ministry,” Cozzens wrote.

“Judge Timothy O’Malley, the Director of the Office for Ministerial Standards in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, who oversaw the investigative process on behalf of Archbishop Bernard Hebda and assisted our MRB, reviewed the case extensively and concluded that it is clear Msgr. Grundhaus acted highly inappropriately and in a way that caused lasting harm to individuals and scandal in the diocese. Judge O’Malley agreed that Msgr. Grundhaus’ previous misconduct and the resulting consequences are serious enough to prohibit him from engaging in public ministry,” the bishop added.

When Cozzens was installed in December as Crookston’s bishop, he promised to address lingering issues in the diocese, and to work toward “reconciliation.”

“The Diocese of Crookston has been through difficulties and struggles. It doesn’t help to pretend these have not happened. We’ll face those difficulties and struggles. And we’ll do that together,” the bishop promised his new flock.

He added that Christians are called to “seek God’s forgiveness, and God’s healing.”

“We call this work reconciliation. It’s the work that Jesus came to do in the world —  to reconcile us to himself and to each other.”

“God has given us the ministry of reconciliation— it’s what we do in the Church. We reconcile. We reconcile ourselves to God through confession and the sacraments. And then through God, we are reconciled to one another,” Cozzens added.

In his letter Monday, Cozzens said his decision had been made after listening to victim-survivors, and people of the diocese.

“One of the things I have heard from you and from the people in my first few months as bishop of Crookston is about the need to restore trust. This has come up quite clearly during the initial Synod Prayer and Listening Events, and I expect it to come up in the others. I know from my previous experiences in ministry how important it is to act on principles which can help to restore this trust — principles like listening to victims-survivors of abuse and putting their needs first, involving qualified laity to help make decisions, and being transparent about decisions and the reasons for them,” Cozzens wrote.

Because Cozzens, who had been an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was appointed to replace the first U.S. bishop who resigned under Vos estis; his decision on Hoeppner’s presence in the diocese could be taken as a precedent for future situations.

Several U.S. bishops are currently under Vos estis investigations, including Dodge City, Kansas’ Bishop John Brungardt, who has been on a voluntary leave-of-absence for more than a year while under investigation for unspecified allegations. Two bishops who were under Vos estis investigations for allegations of abuse have been cleared by the Vatican — Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Robert Guglielmone, both retired.

Ed. note: This story was updated March 7 to include responses from the Diocese of Crookston to questions posed by The Pillar.

Comments

Latest