Symbolic image of justice in the USA © Lukasz Stefanski (shutterstock)
For the first time in the U.S., an archbishop is investigating a bishop accused of misconduct in handling at least one case of abuse. Implemented in the case are the new guidelines from the Vatican.
The archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Bernard Hebda, said (Wednesday local time) the investigation under the Vatican's new guidelines is directed against the bishop of the Diocese of Crookston, Michael Hoeppner.
Hoeppner had "committed acts of misconduct with the intention of interfering in civil or canonical investigations of sexual misconduct by clergy". State law enforcement authorities have been informed, he said.
Silence about the details
The internal church investigation is being led by Tim O'Malley, who has experience in criminal justice in the state of Minnesota as the former chief of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Neither Hebda nor Crookston diocesan spokeswoman Janelle Gergen would comment on details. Hoeppner would comment as soon as the investigation was completed.
According to victim advocate Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, who has represented hundreds of abuse victims, said the accusations against the bishop stem from a trial that ended in 2017 with a large monetary payment. Among others, a man who had been abused as a 16-year-old by a popular priest had complained at the time. Bishop Hoeppner reportedly prered the would-be deacon to sign a letter in 2015 withdrawing allegations against the priest.
Anderson said, according to U.S. media, Archbishop Hebda is unlikely to limit his investigation to the Hoeppner case alone. The president of the victims' lobby SNAP, Tim Lennon, criticizes the procedure given by the Vatican as "not transparent". But it was good that the accusations were brought to the attention of the law enforcement authorities.
Is another case coming?
According to the new protocol, the results of the church's internal investigation must be communicated promptly to the papal nuncio in Washington and the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. There it will be decided whether to take further steps.
Hoeppner case is first to test procedure. A second is expected to be added in the near future. The Catholic Herald reported earlier in the week that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan was considering launching an investigation into Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone. Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, confirmed the speculation. "I would expect that we will hear something in the near future on this matter."