ST. PAUL — Survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of Crookston Diocese clergy along with their lawyers on Tuesday, Nov. 5, called on the Vatican to remove two Roman Catholic bishops alleging they'd known about potential bad actors in the church and allowed them to remain.
The request came as part of a news conference at which the two survivors of assault and their attorneys released documents and video depositions that were part of a $5 million settlement agreement between the diocese and 15 survivors.
The campaign takes aim at Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner and Buffalo (N.Y.) Bishop Richard Malone, who are the subject of separate weeks-old investigations by the Catholic Church. And it comes months after the diocese and a group of survivors who'd sued reached a settlement agreement.
In the filmed depositions released Tuesday, Hoeppner acknowledged he didn't properly handle a report of priest violating a minor brought to him in 2011. And the videos show he didn't take proper steps in investigating other allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
"Pope Francis, remove these bishops today. Because there are no survivors who can settle or rest until you take definitive action," St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson said following the release of the videos. “We can’t wait for anymore investigation, we can’t wait for any more excuses. We just can’t wait."
In particular, Jeff Anderson and Associates highlighted the cases of three clergy members who'd been reported for sexual abuse and were later reinstated.
Father Joseph Richards admitted to sexually abusing a 5 year old when he was 15 and underwent counseling during a leave of absence from the church in 1993. Despite medical reports spelling out concerns about his "sexual compulsivity," Richards was placed back in the ministry in 1997. He is now a pastor in Fertile, Minn., and is included on a list of priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor or possession of child pornography due to his own admission of that experience, according to the diocese.
Father Patrick Sullivan was removed from ministry following a 2016 lawsuit alleging he sexually abused a parishioner in 2009 on the Red Lake Reservation. He underwent treatment following the abuse, at which time doctors recommended he seek continued psychotherapy and programs to better understand boundaries.
Hoeppner in the filmed deposition said he'd read the report assessing Sullivan as a risk before he was reinstated and didn't turn over the reports to police. The Diocesan Review Board found the allegations against Sullivan not credible and so his name was not included in a list of those accused. Sullivan was placed on administrative leave earlier this year following a reported "boundary issue."
And Ron Vasek, a former candidate for deacon, in 2011 reported to Hoeppner that Monsignor Roger Grundhaus sexually abused him during an overnight trip in 1971 when the two were alone. In 2015, Vasek withdrew his report, later citing pressure from Hoeppner to recant.
Two years later, Vasek along with other survivors of clergy sexual abuse filed 15 lawsuits against the diocese. A state law opened a three-year window beginning in 2016 for victims to come forward despite pre-existing statutes of limitations.
Grundhaus in interviews earlier this year about the incident said he tickled Vasek in a manner not intended to be sexual and later apologized for the behavior. And following the settlement, Grundhaus denied those allegations to the Grand Forks Herald, calling them a "total lie."
Vasek said the incident and the efforts by others to conceal his story had a profound impact on him and on his family, decades after the fact.
"I was abused. I reported. I was told to be silent and I was coerced. I have been lied to and I gave my diaconate to tell the truth," Vasek said. "With the release of these depositions, the devil loses and Jesus wins."
The Crookston Diocese on Tuesday in a statement said Hoeppner "has fully cooperated with the preliminary investigation" by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda and noted that the church had continued to take steps to provide a safe environment.
This story has been updated to clarify the disclosure list on which Father Joseph Richards appeared.