CROOKSTON, Minn. — With a popular Bemidji priest placed on administrative leave this week, parishioners are demanding answers.
Former Moorhead priest Father Bryan Kujawa is in Pennsylvania undergoing a mental assessment and is being investigated by the Catholic Diocese of Crookston for his conduct, which includes “boundary violations.” The conduct is described as "non-sexual" and "non-criminal.”
Kujawa responded on social media in a letter to his parishioners laying out the accusations, saying the diocese was concerned about him texting a minor. There was also an accusation of verbal abuse, a complaint he was upset with a woman who missed mass and a woman who complained he touched her thigh in confession.
Some in the region's Catholic community aren't convinced Kujawa did anything wrong and have put up billboards asking people to call Bishop Michael Hoeppner and demand answers. The signs around Crookston, Grand Forks, Fargo and Detroit Lakes read: “Demand Justice for Father Bryan Kujawa.”
Tom Morrissey, one of several northern Minnesota Catholics who helped pay for the billboards, wants fellow members of his faith to ask church leaders in Crookston why they decided to discipline the priest.
"I want people to call the diocese and tell them we expect you to explain this. He's convicted and accused of no crime," said Morrissey, who is not one of Kujawa’s parishioners, but says he has met the priest several times.
"He's just a wonderful nice polite guy … my grandbaby is welcome to be with him at any time — and I protect my grandbaby like a bear," he said.
Morrissey won't say how long the billboards will be up for, but he hopes more Catholics will call for change.
"How do we get people to wake up? How do we get the church, the laity, to wake up and call the bishop and say we want Father Kujawa to be treated fairly and properly?" he said.
Morrissey says thousands of people have reached out to him online in the last few days.
"It affects everybody. It affects the church as a whole. And people far beyond our own diocese are concerned," he said.
The criticism comes amid an investigation into Bishop Hoepner for his alleged mishandling of sexual misconduct cases in his diocese.
Filmed depositions released in November have many parishioners questioning if Bishop Hoeppner knew certain priests could've been a danger to children but didn’t take action.
"He has not been honest with us. He lied in the deposition. We all saw him lying in the deposition," said Morrissey.
With unanswered questions mounting, Morrissey wants Hoeppner to resign.
"The trust is broken. I believe permanently," he said.
The Crookston Diocese refused to comment on the billboards or investigation. Kujawa was not available for comment.