Twin Cities attorney Jeff Anderson on Tuesday appealed directly to Pope Francis, demanding the leader of the Catholic Church immediately remove the bishop of the Crookston Diocese for interfering in clergy abuse cases and allowing accused priests to continue their ministries.
While calling for Bishop Michael Hoeppner's immediate removal, Anderson also urged the pope to remove Bishop Richard Malone of the Buffalo Diocese in New York for the way he has handled a sex abuse crisis there.
Both men are among the first sitting U.S. bishops to be scrutinized under new Vatican protocols for reviewing and disciplining bishops. Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis oversaw the investigation into Hoeppner and submitted his report last week to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
"That report includes all investigative information gathered, as well as summaries, analysis, findings of fact and recommendations," Hebda said Tuesday in a written statement. "Final resolution of this matter will be determined in Rome." The Congregation for Bishops will determine what actions, if any, are necessary, he added.
Anderson, however, urged the pope to take immediate action.
"The peril is present and real," Anderson said. In an hourlong news conference, Anderson reviewed transcripts and played video from a deposition in which he questioned Hoeppner about allowing priests who were accused of sexual abuse to remain on the job. He charged that Hoeppner, as well as Malone, have concealed predators and protected themselves.
"Both have engaged and are engaging in the dangerous practice of deceit, deception and concealment of crimes by predators and crimes in which they both are complicit," Anderson said. "No excuses. No more time. Remove Hoeppner and Malone and remove them now."
Anderson made his direct appeal while abuse survivors Ron Vasek and Pat Matuseski stood alongside him. The two are among 15 abuse survivors who reached a $5 million settlement with the Crookston Diocese in July. As part of that settlement, the personnel files of 19 offenders along with investigative documents, deposition videos and other files related to the Crookston case are being made public.
Stepping up to the microphone on Tuesday, Vasek became the voice for survivors who had their childhood innocence ripped from them and the decades of emotional pain they endured in silence.
Vasek, a former deacon candidate, sued the Crookston Diocese. He claimed that Hoeppner threatened to undermine his religious work and his son's if he didn't recant his allegation that he was sexually abused as a teen by the Rev. Roger Grundhaus in 1971.
"I was abused. I reported it," Vasek said. "I was told to be silent. I was coerced."
Vasek and other survivors have waited decades for action to be taken, said Anderson when asked why he was asking the Pope to remove the bishops before the investigative process is concluded.
"We can't wait for any more investigation," he said. "[We] can't wait for any more excuses. We just can't wait. Why? Because the kids are at peril and the survivors are suffering and there is no settlement until there is action."
Staff writer Jean Hopfensperger contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788