— Rome — Pope Francis has aaccepted the resignation of a Minnesota bishop who had been the subject of a Vatican inquiry for alleged coverup of clerical sexual abuse.
The Press Office of the Holy See announced on Tuesday at noon Rome Time that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Hoeppner, and named the 78 year-old Bishop-emeritus of Des Moines, Iowa, Richard Pates, as Apostolic Administrator of Crookston.
The two-sentence statement from the Press Office gives no reason for the resignation, but Bishop Hoeppner is 71, four years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops, and had been investigated for abuse coverup under the reform law Pope Francis enacted to streamline coverup inquiries, Vos estis lux mundi.
Hoeppner allegedly pressured Ron Vasek, a man then in training for the diaconate, to keep quiet about abuse he suffered at the hands of Fr. Roger Grundhaus, and even demanded Vasek recant his allegation, which Vasek did in a 2015 letter.
Hoeppner has denied that allegation, and stated in sworn testimony that his intention in declaring Grundhaus fit for ministry despite his knowledge of the allegation was to protect the confidentiality of the victim.
The Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Bernard Hebda, conducted the preliminary investigation into Bishop Hoeppner’s conduct, and last year announced that the Holy See had authorized a full probe.
A statement on the website of the Crookston diocese says that Pope Francis has “asked for, and has now accepted” Bishop Hoeppner’s resignation “after an extensive investigation.”
The Crookston statement goes on to say that the investigation “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,” and was “conducted pursuant to the motu proprio, Vos estis lux mundi.”
The Catholic Herald asked Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni for confirmation of Crookston’s statement and for further information regarding details of the investigation, any eventual formal charges, or canonical criminal proceedings either completed or pending. The Herald also asked why Bishop Hoeppner was allowed to resign.
There is no word from Crookston or the Vatican regarding formal charges, canonical proceedings, a verdict, or penalty. The Crookston statement makes no mention of restrictions on Bishop Hoeppner, nor does it say whether he has emeritus status. There was no immediate reply from the Press Office of the Holy See to the Herald‘s queries in these regards.
*This story has been updated to include the Crookston statement.