Diocese of Crookston settles 15 claims of clergy sexual abuse

Forum News Service/July 17, 2019

By Tess Williams

St. Paul — The Diocese of Crookston agreed Wednesday, July 17, to pay $5 million to the 15 survivors of sexual abuse who filed claims against the church in recent years.

The settlement also will release the “names and secret files of clergy accused of sexually abusing children in the Diocese of Crookston,” as well as depositions taken during litigation, according to a press release from Jeff Anderson and Associates PA, which represented the victims.

The diocese has settled at least four other child sexual abuse lawsuits in recent years, according to the release. Most of the 15 survivors brought lawsuits as a result of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which began in 2013 and opened a three-year window for victims to bring forward cases that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations.

The lawsuits alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Father James Bernauer, Father James Porter, Father Patrick Sullivan, Father Stanley Bourassa, Father James Vincent Fitzgerald and Monsignor Roger Grundhaus. The abuse reportedly spanned from 1969 until 2009. The 15 lawsuits against the diocese, as well as cases against eight parishes, were filed between April 2016 and May 2017.

Father Patrick Sullivan was active within the diocese until this year, when a report of “boundary issues” surfaced in February. He had previously been placed on leave in 2016 after the lawsuit was filed.

Sullivan is on administrative leave after the latest allegations were brought forward. He will undergo an assessment from the church’s review board and potentially receive inpatient treatment at a center focused on treating members of the clergy, Communications Director Janelle Gergen said in February. She said the incident in question involved a minor but was not criminal or sexual.

Most of the $5 million settlement was paid by the diocese’s insurance carriers, according to a press release from Rev. Michael J. Hoeppner. The church will pay just over $1.5 million from funds saved from the sale of property, non-restricted estate gifts and money the diocese has on hand, the release said.

The church will avoid filing for bankruptcy as a result of the settlement, Hoeppner said.

"All other dioceses in Minnesota have filed or announced their intent to file for financial reorganization in recent years,” a statement from Hoeppner said. “The Diocese will not experience layoffs and can steadfastly continue its mission of serving God’s people in the 14 northwest counties of Minnesota.”

Hoeppner wrote that the diocese is thankful the litigation has ended.

“I apologize for the harm done to you by those entrusted with your spiritual care,” Hoeppner wrote, addressing the victims. “Although you can never be fully compensated for your suffering, we are thankful this litigation has now come to a good end and are hopeful this settlement offers you justice and will be helpful for healing.”

The Diocese of Crookston also lists Richard Boyd, Victor Cardin, Henry G. Carriere, Gerald K. Foley and Francis R. Reid as priests who have been credibly accused of abuse of a minor.

Eleven other priests, Lawrence Davis, Charles Gormly, Louis Heitzer, Othman Hohmann, Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, Paul Kabut, Stephen Murawski, Michael O’Reilly, Aloysius Simon, Casimir Plakut and Augustine John Strub, were not incardinated in the Diocese of Crookston but worked or lived there at some point and have been accused of abusing a minor, according to the diocese’s website.

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