CROOKSTON, Minn. — A Bemidji priest has been placed on administrative leave for his conduct, including "boundary violations," the Catholic Diocese of Crookston announced in a statement.
Bishop Michael Hoeppner placed Father Bryan Kujawa on leave effective Tuesday, Jan. 14, after his fitness to be a priest was repeatedly called into question, the statement said.
Kujawa will remain on leave until the diocese has completed its investigation, conducted a professional assessment and gotten recommendations from its review board.
The move comes as Hoeppner faces a "vos estis lux mundi" investigation by the Vatican, a new church protocol instituted by Pope Francis in 2019 to address allegations of sexual misconduct. The bishop is the first to be investigated under the protocol for his alleged interference with an investigation into clerical sexual misconduct in the Crookston Diocese.
Hoeppner and a group of bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota met with the pope on Tuesday, Catholic News Agency reported.
The priest is assigned to St. Philip's Church and the Holy Spirit Newman Center in Bemidji. He also has an assignment in nearby Pennington, an unincorporated community in Beltrami County. The conduct he is accused of is described by the Crookston Diocese as "non-criminal" and "non-sexual."
Kujawa said in a Jan. 9 letter to parishioners that Hoeppner removed his faculties after several complaints about his conduct between 2017 and December 2019.
In 2017 Kujawa said he was approached by a minor who asked the priest to be her spiritual director. However, her parents felt it was inappropriate that he texted her to organize meetings and that they weren’t always notified when meetings happened.
According to the letter, Hoeppner reviewed the complaint and all parties agreed that while what the priest and girl were communicating was appropriate, that the two should not have been texting. Kujawa said he “corrected his behavior accordingly.”
Since then, Kujawa said he was told of three complaints against him by three anonymous women. One said he was “verbally abusive” and another complained he was “upset” with her for missing Mass.
A third woman complained after hearing from a friend that Kujawa rubbed her on the thigh during confession. Kujawa denies the allegation, describing it as hearsay. He added that the woman he allegedly rubbed said she did not want to make a complaint.
Kujawa is being assessed at the St. John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania. The Crookston Diocese said it would not comment any further as the priest’s leave is a personnel issue.