Vatican City, Apr 13, 2021 / 05:15 am (CNA).
Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota, who was the subject of two Church investigations after he was accused of mishandling cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct.
Hoeppner, 71, was the first U.S. bishop to be investigated under Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ 2019 norms on investigating bishops accused of mishandling or obstructing allegations of clerical sexual abuse.
Pope Francis appointed Bishop Richard Edmund Pates, bishop emeritus of Des Moines, Iowa, to lead the Crookston diocese as apostolic administrator “sede vacante” until a new bishop is named.
Hoeppner is reported to have pressured an alleged victim to drop his allegation of abuse against a priest, failed to follow mandatory reporting laws, and neglected to follow protocols designed to monitor priests accused of misconduct.
A report on the Vos estis investigation of Hoeppner was sent to Rome in late October 2019, and in February 2020, the Diocese of Crookston announced that the Vatican had ordered an additional investigation into the bishop.
Both investigations were conducted by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Hoeppner was not permitted to oversee sexual abuse cases in his diocese during the second investigation.
In depositions released Nov. 5, 2019, as part of a legal settlement, Hoeppner is seen to admit to several of the charges against him. In those depositions, Hoeppner also defended a diocesan decision to allow a priest to remain in ministry, without notifying parents or parishioners, after the priest admitted that while he was teenager he had sexually abused a younger child.
The announcement in early 2020 about a second investigation into Hoeppner followed several months in which local Catholics called for Hoeppner’s resignation, and accused him of mistreating a popular priest removed from ministry under vague terms.
Priests in the diocese told CNA at the time that they expected Hoeppner to be removed from office, and that given the bishop’s record, the credibility of the Vos estis procedures could be called into question if he is eventually permitted to remain in office.
Vos estis lux mundi allows the Vatican “to provide for a supplementary investigation” after initial steps are taken, if Vatican officials deem it necessary.
There are currently several Vos estis investigations going on in dioceses in the U.S.
In 2021, announcements were made about new Vos estis investigations into Bishop John Brungardt of Dodge City and former Albany bishop Howard Hubbard.