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Judge begins decision process in suit against Crookston diocese, bishop

CROOKSTON, Minn. — A northwest Minnesota judge has until Dec. 19, 2017, to rule on a lawsuit accusing the Diocese of Crookston and its bishop of covering up abuse and inflicting emotional damages on a man who says his bid to become a deacon was rejected because he reported being sexually abused by a priest more than 40 years ago.

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, Minnesota Ninth District Court Judge Kurt Marben took under advisement a lawsuit from Tabor, Minn., resident Ron Vasek against the Diocese of Crookston and Bishop Michael Joseph Hoeppner. This gives him 90 days to make a decision in the case, according to the Polk County Clerk of Court's Office, meaning a ruling is due by Dec. 19.

The lawsuit accuses Hoeppner of coercion and inflicting emotional distress. It says that in 1971, Vasek was sexually abused by Monsignor Roger Grundhaus while on a trip to Ohio when he was 16 years old. In 2010, his son, the Rev. Craig Vasek, was ordained as priest in the Diocese of Crookston, and Ron Vasek tried to become a deacon. That's when he claims he revealed his abuse and was told by Hoeppner to stay quiet, which he believes is an act of blackmail.

Thomas Wieser, a St. Paul attorney representing Hoeppner and who has previously represented the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said the claims against his client have been settled.

"Mr. Vasek has settled his claims against the bishop," the Diocese of Crookston said in a news release. "The settlement agreement avoids costly attorney fees and a drawn out legal process. The settlement agreement does not constitute any admission of unlawful conduct or wrongdoing by Bishop Hoeppner. No diocesan funds were used to pay the settlement. The Diocese is now seeking dismissal of the remaining claims related to this matter."

The statement also notes that Grundhaus remains suspended from public ministry.

Reached by the Herald, Vasek said he'd agreed to drop the coercion count against Hoeppner in exchange for the copy of a letter Hoeppner asked him to sign in October 2015 that recanted his allegations of abuse against Grundhaus.

"That was more important to me than any other part of the settlement, because that proves something happened on that day, and that proves their statements made against me at the press are untrue," Vasek said on getting a copy of the letter.

He said the remaining count against Hoeppner, accusing him of intentionally inflicting emotional distress, has not been settled. The remaining five counts levied specifically at the diocese, two nuisance counts, one count of negligence, one count of negligent supervision, and one count of negligent retention, all will be decided by Judge Marben.

Jeff Anderson, Vasek's St. Paul attorney, who has filed several successful abuse suits against dioceses across the country, believes they will get a fair shot in the case.

"I think this judge is very rigourous and very thoughtful, and I'd expect him to make a decision in the next few weeks," Anderson said.

The attorney for the diocese and representatives from the diocese did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

Surrounded by support

Since filing the lawsuit, Vasek said he has received support from his community in Tabor and across the world from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Letters have reached him from Canada and Italy.

"People are flat out sick and tired of it," he said. "They're just upset that it's continuing to happen after three popes have said 'clean it up'."

While Vasek said he has not been able to get his spiritual fulfillment in a traditional way since filing a suit against the church, he continues to be supported by priests and many in his congregation.

"I have not had one person come up to me and tell me I'm doing the wrong thing," Vasek said.

His son, who serves St. Patrick's Church in Hallock, Minn., has declined to comment in the past when reached by the Grand Forks Herald. Vasek said his son has had a tough time during the lawsuit, but is being supported by his parish.

Vasek said his aim is to purify the church that he loves, and that the only way to do it is by challenging its top officials. He says all he wants is the truth.

"The cover-up and the justice denied is worse than the abuse was in the first place," Vasek said.

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