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Three-time Olympian shares her conversion story

Dominique Dawes. / Credit: Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy.

Denver Newsroom, Apr 17, 2021 / 02:00 am (CNA).

Three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes talks about her conversion to the Catholic faith, and how God has been at work in her life and in her gymnastics career.

White House says it will increase refugee cap in May

Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden will increase the refugee admissions limit by May 15 - after reports that he would keep the refugee cap at its record-low level for this fiscal year. 

NIH reverses restrictions on fetal tissue research

Alex_Traksel/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2021 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Friday announced it will not require ethics boards to review federally-funded research proposals using fetal tissue of aborted babies.  

Former Cincinnati auxiliary bishop’s role with Catholic school undetermined, as parents express concerns

Cincinnati auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer. / Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati, Ohio, Apr 16, 2021 / 14:11 pm (CNA).

Parents at St. John the Baptist School in Hamilton County, Ohio expressed concern this week about former Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer, who resigned and apologized last year after failing to report concerns about a priest to the archbishop, being assigned to pastor two churches associated with the school. 

NGO praises Mastercard for trying to curb illegal pornography

Zyabich/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2021 / 12:06 pm (CNA).

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation praised the credit card association Mastercard for implementing new policies to curb illegal pornography.

USCCB: Permitting mail-order abortion pills places women’s health ‘in serious jeopardy’

Ivanko80/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2021 / 10:33 am (CNA).

The pro-life chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference on Friday warned that loosening federal regulations of the abortion pill places women’s health “in serious jeopardy.”

Indianapolis archbishop offers prayers in response to local mass shooting

Archdiocese of Indianapolis

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2021 / 09:46 am (CNA).

The Archbishop of Indianapolis on Friday offered prayers and called on Catholics to work to end gun violence, after a deadly mass shooting at a local FedEx facility the night before.

A Historic Resignation

When Msgr. Roger Grundhaus wanted to baptize his niece’s baby in the cathedral of a nearby diocese, there was the simple matter of getting a letter from his bishop affirming that he was a priest in good standing.

Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner of Crookston in northwest Minnesota obliged the retired priest, a former vicar general of his diocese. “He is a person of good moral character and reputation,” he wrote in 2012. “I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.”

But contrary to that blanket statement, Hoeppner had already heard allegations directly from a diaconate candidate, Ron Vasek, that Grundhaus had molested him in the early 1970s. And so, attorney Jeff Anderson confronted the bishop with the letter during a deposition: “That’s a lie, isn’t it?”

“Counsel, can you rephrase in a non-argumentative way?” the diocesan lawyer interjected, and there was no admission from the bishop in settling the lawsuit.

This letter was part of a trail of evidence leading to the announcement that Pope Francis had asked for and received Hoeppner’s resignation as bishop, a first in the United States under the 2019 Vatican regulations designed to prevent cover-ups of clergy sexual abuse. The disclosure that the pope had “asked for” the bishop’s resignation, appearing in a statement from the Diocese of Crookston, marked a significant advance in the long effort to hold prelates accountable for concealing clergy sexual abuse. 

But at the same time, there is a void of information on exactly where the Church’s investigators and Pope Francis found the bishop went astray. In lieu of any kind of fact-finding report, we are left with Hoeppner’s vague statement to the people of his diocese: “I apologize to you, as I have apologized to our Holy Father, for my failures in governing as bishop.” In the meantime, he wrote, he would enjoy living in a “warmer climate” near his sister, adding, “I look forward to returning to Crookston for personal visits and will await the appointment of a new bishop here to determine other activity.”

In a telephone interview, Vasek said he was pleased with the thoroughness of the investigation, conducted for the Vatican through Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “I would really like to see what they found in the investigation, but I don’t think we’ll ever see that,” he said, adding that the outcome “tells me there was sufficient evidence there to boot a bishop.” He continued: “I was really pleased to see that Pope Francis asked for the resignation. They could have just said, ‘he resigned.’ They could have said his health was bad.... That tells everything to me.”

As is so often the case for those who wrestle with whether to file abuse charges, Vasek grew up in a devout Catholic family deeply involved in their parish. His mother became friendly with Grundhaus, and the priest visited the Vasek home for Sunday dinners and birthday parties. Vasek volunteered frequently at the parish, and, Grundhaus said in his testimony, he counseled the family after one of Vasek’s brothers died in a tractor accident.

According to a lawsuit Vasek filed in 2017, Grundhaus sexually abused him in 1971. (Grundhaus declined to comment.) As a newly licensed driver at the age of sixteen, he drove the priest to a meeting of canon lawyers in Columbus, Ohio; Grundhaus allegedly made his move on the boy when they roomed together overnight. (In a deposition, Grundhaus denied touching him inappropriately, but confirmed that he did room with Vasek on the trip, although in 1972 when he was seventeen.) Then, on a similar trip in 1973, Vasek alleges, Grundhaus attacked him in their room. (The priest denied a sexual intent and testified he was horsing around, holding Vasek, who was clad in underwear, from behind in “kind of a bear hug” as he lay in bed in the morning.) 

According to the lawsuit, Vasek disclosed what happened to another priest when he was considering entry into the diaconate program. That led to a meeting between Vasek and the bishop around 2011.

There is a void of information on exactly where the Church’s investigators and Pope Francis found the bishop went astray.

This is where the account Hoeppner gave under oath in a deposition veers sharply from Vasek’s account. Vasek alleges that the bishop coerced him into silence by threatening his success in the diaconate program and also that of his son Craig, who was ordained a priest in the Crookston diocese in 2010. Hoeppner denied that, saying he didn’t follow up on Vasek’s allegation because Vasek wanted it to remain confidential. (Vasek ultimately withdrew from the diaconate program.)

Meanwhile, a judge presiding over another case against the Crookston diocese ordered the diocese on August 13, 2015 to turn over “all information” about clergy sexual-abuse allegations to the plaintiff’s attorneys. But Vasek’s allegation against Msgr. Grundhaus was not handed over.

The allegation did come to the attention of officials in the neighboring Diocese of Fargo, though, when they reviewed whether to let Msgr. Grundhaus assist there. As a result, Vasek was asked to meet with Hoeppner at his private residence and there, according to Vasek, the bishop coerced him into signing a document that essentially recanted the allegation he had raised. 

Under oath, Hoeppner said he had “absolutely not” done that. What’s not disputed is the resulting statement: “I, Ron Vasek, regarding a trip I was on when I was 16 years old, and on which a priest of the Diocese of Crookston was also participating, clearly and freely state that I have no desire to nor do I make any accusation of sexual impropriety by the priest toward me,” stated over his signature, dated October 21, 2015.

In his testimony, the bishop called this a “normal procedure” done without consulting a lawyer, and said no one was given a copy of the letter. He kept it, and, he testified, didn’t save it on his computer “because it’s confidential.” But confidential or not, the diocesan Safe Environment coordinator testified that the rules required all allegations to be reported to the vicar general of the diocese. (An attorney who represented Hoeppner in Vasek’s lawsuit didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

“It’s just the most grotesque abuse of power,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks bishops’ role in the sex-abuse crisis. She questioned the deterrent effect of allowing Hoeppner to retain his status as a bishop.

Hoeppner settled the coercion lawsuit Vasek filed in September 2017, not long after Vasek’s lawyers filed papers charging that the Crookston diocese had covered up Vasek’s allegations in the earlier lawsuit. There was no admission of wrongdoing; the bishop again denied pressuring Vasek, though.

And then there was that letter to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the one in which the bishop said he was unaware of anything in Grundhaus’s background to prevent him from working with children.

“That’s not the truth, is it?” attorney Anderson asked him under oath.

A: I’m respecting the confidentiality. That’s why I signed that.

Q: Is that true or is that false?

A: I’m respecting the confidentiality.

Vasek told me he had inquired with local authorities about whether the bishop could be charged with perjury, but was told it was a difficult type of charge to prove. Still, he is glad to put the Hoeppner matter behind him. “I was just praying that the pope...would find him guilty,” he said.

More states pass bills aimed at protecting women’s sports

lzf/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

State legislatures of West Virginia and Kansas recently passed bills restricting participation in women’s sports to one’s biological sex and not gender identity.

Why Maine Catholics, unable to meet in person, aren't sheepish about their faith

Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

With the Maine Catholic Youth Meeting taking place virtually for the second year in a row, the Diocese of Portland is trying something new to engage young Catholics - a healthy dose of sheep puns.