Sexual Abuse Survivor Ron Vasek Breaks Silence About Abuse by Former Diocese of Crookston Vicar General Msgr. Roger Grundhaus
Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner Sued for Coercion
(St. Paul, MN) – A Minnesota man sued the Diocese of Crookston and Bishop Michael Hoeppner on Tuesday, claiming that Hoeppner coerced him into keeping silent about his alleged abuse by a Diocese of Crookston priest 46 years ago and signing a document stating the abuse never occurred.
Ron Vasek and his attorney, Jeff Anderson, announced the filing of the lawsuit in St. Paul. Vasek alleges that he was abused as a minor by Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, a Diocese of Crookston priest, and that Hoeppner coerced Vasek into signing a document stating the abuse did not occur. This is the first time in the United States that a bishop has been sued individually for coercion, Anderson said.
Grundhaus allegedly sexually abused Vasek in 1971 while on a trip to Ohio. Vasek was approximately 16. Grundhaus was working as a priest at Holy Trinity Church in Tabor, Minn., where Vasek and his family were parishioners.
Vasek kept the secret to himself for many years to protect his parents and their relationship with the Church. But he remained devoted to the Catholic Church and trained to be a deacon in the Diocese of Crookston. In 2009 or 2010, while considering becoming a member of the dioceses’ diaconate program, Vasek disclosed the Grundhaus abuse to a priest in another diocese. That priest reported the abuse to the vicar general of his diocese, who reported it to Hoeppner.
Hoeppner scheduled a meeting with Vasek at the Diocese of Crookston Chancery, where Vasek told Hoeppner about the abuse. Hoeppner told Vasek not to tell anyone about the abuse as it would harm Grundhaus and his reputation. Hoeppner told Vasek his diaconate program would not be affected by his disclosure as long as he didn’t tell anyone else about the abuse. Vasek felt intimidated and threatened by Hoeppner, and told no one else.
In 2010, Vasek’s son was ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Crookston. Vasek entered the diocese’s diaconate program in 2011. In August 2015, a Mahnomen County (Minn.) District Court ordered the Diocese of Crookston to produce information on clergy accused of child sexual abuse in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit. In response, the diocese did not produce Grundhaus’ name or information in its court-ordered disclosures. In October 2015, Hoeppner had Vasek come to his private residence, where he told Vasek to sign a letter retracting Vasek’s statements regarding the sexual abuse by Grundhaus and indicating that the abuse in Ohio never happened. Vasek initially refused to sign the letter.
“I told the bishop ‘This is a lie and I can’t sign it,’” Vasek said Tuesday. But in response, Hoeppner threatened Vasek’s participation in the diaconate program and Vasek’s son’s priesthood in the Diocese of Crookston. “I knew that at that moment he was blackmailing me,” Vasek said. Vasek felt that he had no choice and was coerced by Hoeppner to sign the letter. Hoeppner told Vasek he would keep the letter in his vault if he ever needed it. Vasek left Hoeppner’s residence without a copy of the letter. “I left feeling like I had been abused all over again,” Vasek said.
Vasek was concerned about whether there were other Grundhaus victims who hadn’t come forward or were silenced by Hoeppner. Vasek, on the verge of being ordained as a deacon in the Church he still loved, ultimately came forward and filed today’s lawsuit. “I just felt I couldn’t be ordained without revealing what I know,” he said. Vasek realizes that his deaconship might not come to fruition as a result of the abuse and coercion matters. He wants other victims to come forward and to advocate for them. “If I can’t be a deacon, at least I can be of service to those who were abused, in some way,” he said.
Grundhaus served under four bishops in various top-level capacities in the Diocese of Crookston. His assignment history chronicles a young priest immediately put on the fast-track. He earned Canon Law degree in 1968. He was appointed Diocese of Crookston chancellor in 1968. He served as chancellor until 1979. Grundhaus was the diocese’s vicar general – second in command only to the bishop – from 1991-2008. He served on the diocesan Priests Personnel Board for many years.
Grundhaus helped draft the Diocese of Crookston’s sex abuse policy in approximately 1993. He was a member of the diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board in 2003-06, and the Board of Review for the Protection of Children and Young people in 2007-08. Grundhaus also worked as a priest at several Diocese of Crookston parishes. He retired in 2010 but continued to fill in and work at multiple Crookston Diocese parishes for other priests who were on vacation or ill until as recently as late April 2017 – at least seven years after Vasek first reported the abuse to Hoeppner.