Crookston diocese settles bishop coercion claim

A Minnesota man has settled his claim that Bishop Michael Hoeppner coerced him into retracting an allegation of clergy sexual abuse against a priest in the Crookston diocese.

Ron Vasek, of Tabor Township, Minn., said the abuse occurred in 1971. He said that in 2010, while he contemplated becoming a deacon in the diocese, he told the bishop he'd been abused by a priest. In his lawsuit, filed in Polk County District Court, Vasek claimed the bishop coerced him to sign a letter asserting that no abuse ever happened.

Vasek said Hoeppner warned him that refusing to sign would hurt his dream of becoming a church deacon and impair the career of his son, who was a diocese priest.

Attorney Mike Finnegan said Vasek got a copy of the letter and an undisclosed monetary settlement this week.

As part of the settlement, Hoeppner made no admission of wrongdoing. The bishop also says he was willing to ordain Vasek as a deacon, but that Vasek chose not to be ordained.

"Looking back and knowing what I do now, I believe I would have handled my conversations with Mr. Vasek differently," Hoeppner said in a statement posted on the diocese website. "However, please know that I did not pressure Mr. Vasek into making any decision with which he was not comfortable."

Finnegan said the letter itself is evidence of coercion.

Vasek's negligence and other claims against the diocese are still pending.

Earlier this week, the Diocese of Crookston said that it has been notified that two religious order priests assigned within the Diocese in the 1940s and 1950s likely abused minors.

Their names have been added to the diocese list of priests "credibly accused" of abuse of a minor. Both priests are deceased.