The former bishop of Crookston, Michael J. Hoeppner, resigned his see at Pope Francis’s request after an investigation into claims Hoeppner “had intentionally interfered with or avoided a canonical or civil investigation of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.”
There is no official word on the specifics of that alleged coverup.
Neither the Vatican nor the local jurisdictions involved have published the investigation reports.
No Church official has said whether Bishop Hoeppner faced formal charges.
No Church official has said whether he received a trial or other canonical process.
Repeated inquiries from the Catholic Herald to official sources in the Vatican, in Crookston, and in St. Paul-Minneapolis – the metropolitan see of which Crookston is suffragan – regarding those matters and Bishop Hoeppner’s current status, have gone several days without reply, and occasionally without acknowledgment.
UPDATE: Tom Halden, the Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, has complained to the Catholic Herald, noting that he did respond to emails. “Please correct the paragraph regarding the Archdiocese,” he wrote on Friday afternoon. “You acknowledge in the email below that I responded to you,” and indeed he did, though he did not answer our questions. “We have earned that,” Halden wrote. We agree.
On Wednesday morning (Minnesota Time), Halden sent us a statement we had already obtained. Later in the day, in response to a follow-up email, Halden said he did not have the answers to our questions regarding the following: “Can you say if there was a process? I don’t mean an investigation: I mean a trial or other proceedings? If so, was there a verdict? If so, what was it? Penalties? Restrictions? Why is +Hoeppner moving out?”
“I know he’s not your guy,” I wrote, “and understand that you may be working under circumstances you’d rather were different. If you can answer any of these, I’d be grateful. If not, I get it. (I used to have a “No good deed goes unpunished” file.)”
“Thanks for understanding the process,” Halden replied, “that Archbishop Hebda was tasked with the investigation and that only the Holy See has the answers to your questions about trials, penalties, sanctions, etc.”
“Is Hoeppner guilty?” I asked the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, on Tuesday, shortly after news of his resignation broke in the noon bulletin from the Press Office of the Holy See. “Of what, if so? Was there a trial? Is there … [sic] anything else you can say? If he was guilty, why was he allowed to resign?”
“There is a statement from Crookston,” Bruni responded. “Yes,” I replied, “but it doesn’t say anything, beyond that Pope Francis asked for the resignation. Sorry for asking, but, can you confirm [that]?” Bruni replied: “For the moment, what the diocese has stated rests.”
“Let’s try to understand,” Bruni told this journalist when I wrote to ask whether Bishop Hoeppner has emeritus status with all the rights attendant. Since then, Bruni has not sent any further reply.
Follow-up queries to Bruni on Friday morning went unanswered and unacknowledged.
Emails to Crookston on Tuesday and Wednesday went unanswered and unacknowledged.
Bishop Hoeppner is alleged to have coerced Ron Vasek – a man then in formation for the Crookston diaconate – into recanting an allegation of abuse against then-Fr. Roger Grundhaus. Bishop Hoeppner has admitted in sworn testimony that he declared Fr. Grundhaus fit for ministry despite his knowledge of the allegation, and despite knowing that doing so was against Church norms.
Bishop Hoeppner has denied the coercion claim.
All we know for sure is that he is no longer Bishop of Crookston, after some investigation and “determination” — and that he says he will “move out of state to a warmer climate.” News of Bishop Hoeppner’s plans to move came from a letter published earlier this week to the website of the Crookston diocese. There, Hoeppner also says he looks forward “to returning to Crookston for personal visits and will await the appointment of a new bishop here to determine other activity.”
The man Pope Francis has appointed Apostolic Administrator of Crookston – a placeholder role – is Bishop Richard Pates, emeritus of Des Moines, Iowa.
In his own letter, also published to the Crookston website earlier this week, Bishop Pates wrote of the “respect” and “gratitude” Bishop Hoeppner deserves from the faithful.
“I wish to express the respect that is owed to Bishop Hoeppner at this time,” wrote Bishop Pates. “He cooperated and made his position known with the investigation that was undertaken regarding concerns dealing with the process of clerical sexual abuse and now that a conclusion has been reached, he has cooperated with the determination.”
Again, there is no official acknowledgment of what that determination is, no official word regarding the specific charges, no official word regarding the process Bishop Hoeppner may or may not have received through the organs of ecclesiastical justice, no official word regarding sanctions or penalties or restrictions on his ministry.
“Gratitude,” Bishop Pates continued, “is also in order to Bishop Hoeppner for his thirteen plus years of generous service to the Diocese of Crookston.”
Bishop Hoeppner celebrated his own “farewell Mass” on Thursday, in Crookston’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “It’s been a real joy and a treat,” Hoeppner said.
“It’s a Mass of Thanksgiving,” Bishop Hoeppner explained, “for the blessings that Almighty God has bestowed upon all of us, and myself especially.”
In his homily, Bishop Hoeppner offered this line, the closest to an acknowledgment of some wrongdoing: “I certainly apologize to you and to everyone – as I have apologized to the Holy Father – for any failures that are mine as governing as bishop.”
The rest of Bishop Hoeppner’s homily closely followed the letter he had published to the diocesan website earlier in the week, in which he rehearsed his many accomplishments and spent several paragraphs discussing all the things he liked about being the bishop of Crookston.
Meanwhile, the faithful of Crookston are left in the dark regarding the character and conduct of their erstwhile shepherd.
The faithful in Crookston and elsewhere wonder what really happened.
The world learns that a Catholic bishop accused of interfering in a canonical or civil investigation into clerical sexual abuse gets early retirement with honor – full benefits, too? – and goes to live with relatives in the Sun Belt.
That sounds more like a reward than it does a punishment.