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Minnesota archbishop opens investigation into fellow bishop

Believed to be the first of its kind under new Vatican rules.

Posted: Sep 11, 2019 1:56 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Roman Catholic archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis said Wednesday that he has opened an investigation — which is believed to be the first of its kind under a new Vatican protocol — into allegations that a bishop in northwestern Minnesota interfered with investigations into clerical sexual misconduct.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a statement posted on the archdiocese's website that the investigation targets Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Crookston diocese. Hebda said the allegations are that Hoeppner "carried out acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Crookston," but he gave no further details. He said law enforcement has been informed.

This is the first known investigation by one bishop into another under a groundbreaking church law issued by Pope Francis in May aimed at holding the Catholic hierarchy accountable for failing to protect their flocks. Among other things, it outlines procedures for conducting preliminary investigations of bishops accused of sexual misconduct or cover-ups.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who has represented hundreds of survivors of clerical sexual abuse, told The Associated Press that the allegations against Hoeppner likely stem from lawsuits against the Crookston diocese that have been settled, including one by Ron Vasek, who was aspiring to be a deacon when, he alleged, Hoeppner blackmailed him into signing a letter in 2015 that essentially retracted his allegation that a popular priest had abused him when he was 16.

That lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2017. In July, the diocese reached a $5 million settlemen t with 15 people, including Vasek, who were children when they were sexually abused by priests. As part of the new settlement, the diocese agreed to release the names and files of clergy accused of abuse. Anderson said that information, along with depositions he took from Hoeppner and other Crookston diocese officials, will be released "in the days and weeks ahead."

Anderson said it appears Hebda will be taking a broader look at Hoeppner's handling of abuse allegations against priests, not just Vasek's case.

Janelle Gergen, a spokeswoman for the Crookston diocese, said neither the diocese nor Hoeppner would comment until the investigation is complete.

Information from the Minnesota investigation will be "promptly forwarded" to the pope's representative in the U.S. and to the Congregation of Bishops at the Vatican for a determination on whether further steps are needed, Hebda said. Leading the investigation will be the archdiocese's point person for sexual abuse allegations, Tim O'Malley, a former head of the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The Vatican's new protocol for having one bishop investigate another is "not the full answer" but it represents progress, Anderson said.

"I'm encouraged that they're doing an investigation and I encourage them to do as much cleanup as they can," he said.

But Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the process isn't transparent. He said it's good that the allegations were reported to law enforcement. But having bishops investigate each another keeps everything inside the church, he said, and that leads to cover-ups.

While the Minnesota investigation is the first publicly announced under the new procedures, another might be coming.

The Catholic Herald reported Monday that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York, was considering his responsibilities under the new law regarding allegations against the embattled bishop of Buffalo, Richard Malone, who has come under growing pressure to resign over his handling of reports of clergy misconduct. Dolan's spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, told the Herald, "I would anticipate that we will hear something within the near future regarding this matter." Zwilling was out of the office Wednesday morning and did not immediately respond to a phone message from the AP.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 122812

Reported Deaths: 2287
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin32050965
Ramsey13185346
Dakota9146133
Anoka7955148
Stearns525534
Washington517267
Scott315634
Olmsted305029
St. Louis258563
Wright224714
Nobles211716
Clay200843
Blue Earth19587
Carver16867
Rice15629
Sherburne153221
Kandiyohi15194
Mower148912
Winona116718
Lyon9146
Waseca9089
Crow Wing86821
Chisago8312
Benton8265
Beltrami7537
Otter Tail7206
Steele7162
Todd6922
Itasca67117
Nicollet66417
Freeborn6314
Douglas5923
Martin58416
Le Sueur5825
Morrison5776
McLeod5663
Watonwan5634
Pine5040
Goodhue49711
Polk4894
Becker4833
Isanti4803
Chippewa3733
Carlton3721
Dodge3600
Mille Lacs3467
Pipestone32416
Wabasha3200
Cass3045
Meeker3043
Hubbard3012
Brown2903
Rock2861
Yellow Medicine2655
Cottonwood2610
Redwood24810
Murray2443
Fillmore2350
Sibley2353
Renville22511
Unassigned22053
Faribault2080
Swift1911
Jackson1891
Roseau1890
Kanabec18710
Houston1801
Wadena1790
Lincoln1640
Stevens1631
Pennington1621
Koochiching1604
Aitkin1511
Pope1420
Big Stone1270
Lac qui Parle1222
Wilkin1224
Lake1000
Norman930
Mahnomen911
Grant864
Marshall861
Clearwater740
Red Lake562
Traverse490
Lake of the Woods401
Kittson270
Cook110

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 106765

Reported Deaths: 1522
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk17906281
Woodbury678786
Johnson562330
Black Hawk517196
Linn5020123
Dubuque463852
Scott402433
Story383217
Dallas328843
Pottawattamie294044
Sioux228211
Buena Vista219512
Marshall192236
Webster166414
Plymouth153324
Wapello147062
Clinton134625
Muscatine132357
Crawford130312
Cerro Gordo122223
Des Moines12099
Warren11436
Carroll10238
Jasper101934
Henry9735
Marion92010
Tama89336
Lee8689
Dickinson6837
Wright6791
Delaware6728
Boone6718
Bremer6117
Washington60611
Mahaska60122
Harrison5628
Jackson5253
Lyon5117
Benton4971
Louisa49015
Clay4814
Hamilton4313
Winneshiek4299
Poweshiek42811
Hardin4215
Winnebago41916
Kossuth4150
Floyd41211
Jones4053
Emmet39314
Buchanan3893
Cedar3795
Iowa3756
Franklin36918
Guthrie36414
Cherokee3622
Sac3603
Clayton3503
Page3450
Shelby3411
Butler3402
Fayette3372
Madison3372
Mills3341
Allamakee3248
Chickasaw3191
Clarke3083
Cass3022
Palo Alto2831
Grundy2794
Humboldt2793
Hancock2724
Calhoun2573
Howard2458
Osceola2450
Monroe23711
Mitchell2270
Monona2261
Taylor2202
Union2083
Pocahontas2032
Appanoose1983
Jefferson1881
Lucas1796
Fremont1781
Ida1762
Greene1710
Van Buren1562
Davis1544
Montgomery1525
Keokuk1361
Audubon1281
Worth1260
Adair1231
Decatur1220
Wayne1113
Ringgold802
Adams670
Unassigned250
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