CROOKSTON, Minn. — The Diocese of Crookston agreed Wednesday to pay $5 million to the 15 survivors of sexual abuse who filed claims against the church in recent years, and some of the priests who were credibly accused are connected to The Forum’s coverage area.
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 news release from Jeff Anderson & Associates, a St. Paul law firm that represented the victims.
The Crookston Diocese, which includes Moorhead and Clay County, 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.
Sullivan was active within the diocese at St. Andrew's Parish in Hawley and St. Elizabeth's Parish in Dilworth 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 was placed on administrative leave after the latest allegations emerged. He was to undergo an assessment from the church’s review board and potentially receive inpatient treatment at a center focused on treating clergy, diocese spokeswoman Janelle Gergen said in February. She said the incident in question involved a minor but was not criminal or sexual.
Bourassa was a priest at Assumption Church in Barnesville and St. Cecilia Church in Sabin from 1991 to 1999, when he retired, according to Bishop Accountability, a watchdog website that archives priest abuse. He died in 2004.
Most of the $5 million settlement was paid by the diocese’s insurance carriers, according to a news release from the Rev. Michael Hoeppner. The church will pay just over $1.5 million from funds saved from the sale of property, nonrestricted 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,” Hoeppner said in a statement. “The Diocese will not experience lay-offs and can steadfastly continue its mission of serving God’s people in the 14 northwest counties of Minnesota.”
Hoeppner said the diocese is thankful the litigation has ended.
“I apologize for the harm done to you by those entrusted with your spiritual care,” Hoeppner said, 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 Crookston Diocese 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 Crookston Diocese but worked or lived there at some point and have been accused of abusing a minor, according to the diocese.
Boyd served as a priest in Park Rapids for 11 years, according to Bishop Accountability. As of 2007, Boyd was living in Minnesota, according to Jeff Anderson & Associates.
Reid was a priest at St. Michaels in Mahnomen from 1977 to 1980 and at St. Peter the Apostle in Park Rapids from 1980 to 1990, Bishop Accountability said. He was reportedly removed as a priest in 1992 but was subsequently listed in the Official Catholic Directory in residence at St. Michael's from 1992 to 1997, the website said. He died in 2007.
Hohmann was assigned as a priest in Mahnomen, served as a hospital chaplain in Oakes, N.D., and was a priest at Holy Rosary in Detroit Lakes in the late 1950s until September 1960, Bishop Accountability said. He died in 1980.
Plakut was a priest at several churches in west-central Minnesota, including during 1939 at St. Joseph’s in Moorhead, at Mahnomen in 1946 and two stints in the 1940s in Detroit Lakes, Bishop Accountability said He died in 1988.
Strub was a priest in Mahnomen in the 1950s, Bishop Accountability said. He died in 2015.
Forum reporter April Baumgarten contributed to this report.