When I was in 7 th grade Fr. Roger Grundhaus was assigned to Holy Trinity in Tabor, my parish. He became like an older son to my parents. They adopted him as like one of the sons. Mom would say often: He is like one of my kids. He quickly became one of the brothers; one of the family.
When I was 16 Fr. Grundhaus asked me to help him drive to a meeting (I think it had something to do with Canon Law) in Columbus OH in 1971. Coming off the farm I had no idea what a big city was like; and I’m certain it was the first time I had ever spent in a hotel. I remember having nothing more than $20. Father would leave me alone during the day and I was on for myself – I skipped breakfast because I had little money. Around noon I wandered to the lobby and they pointed to a restaurant. When I sat down I was handed a menu and was shocked at the price of a meal. So, I ordered a baked potato for $3.00 – already a significant amount of the money I had for the trip.
When Father got back to the room from his meetings, he asked if I wanted to go to supper. I said ‘yes’ I’ve only had a baked potato so far. We went to supper in the hotel. At Fathers suggestion, he ordered me a beer. I remember saying to myself at dinner, I’m not old enough to drink, but had a beer with supper. We went back to the room. We watched TV or something. I was land-locked in that room – scared of the city and not knowing what else to do.
The next day he left. No breakfast. I went out on the street to find something cheaper than the hotel to eat. The first restaurant was a place that had corned beef and cabbage (a kind of sandwich). Never had eaten it before and I tried it. It was horrible. Couldn’t finish it. Now I had wasted another portion of my funds.
I went back to the room and waited until Father showed up after his meetings. We went out for supper again. At that supper, I had another beer at Father’s suggestion. That evening I took a shower; and was going to crawl into bed with my underwear on and Father was standing next to the bed. He was standing there in his underwear and t-shirt. I was sitting in an upright position with my back against the bed’s headrest – and we were watching TV. He was still standing by the bed when I crawled in. Then he came into the bed and fondled my private parts.
I put my hands up in a defensive position and looked at him like “What the hell are you doing?” And he backed away. I didn’t know what to do. Shortly after that – he shut the lights off and we went to sleep. We were in the same bed. A king-sized bed I think. Nothing was said between us.
Next morning, nothing was said – as like nothing happened. And nothing was said from that night on until many years later.
I remained an altar server not knowing what to make of it all. But I just didn’t want to think about it at all. The following winter he asked me and my parents to help him drive to another meeting, this time in Peoria, IL (I believe). On the way down to Peoria while I was driving we ran into a horrible blizzard in the Westby, WI area. We ended up driving into blizzard conditions for some time inching behind a semi until we stopped. We sat on the road – later to find out that it was called ‘dead man’s curve’ because it didn’t have a rail – in the blizzard waiting. As we were sitting there we felt something being attached to the front of the vehicle. A man appeared at Father’s window and said “We’re going to pull you into town – because there’s a lot happening.” So, they did. We looked for a hotel room but they were all full. We ended up sleeping in a National Guard armory – and slept on cots. The next morning Father decided to skip the Peoria meeting and head home. We drove past the area known as ‘dead man’s curve’ and were grateful we didn’t end up in the bottom of the gully which we hadn’t seen the night before.
After I turned 18 – I think during summer, horse racing season – he took me to Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg to see the horse races. We spent the afternoon there. It was my first time at horse racing and I learned how to bet on horses. I enjoyed it – it was fun.
That evening we went for supper. Before supper he wanted me to try Scotch. I couldn’t drink it. It was too bitter. So, I had a beer instead. We spent the evening in the same hotel room. Nothing happened.
Shortly after that, when I was 20 – Patty and I got married. Unable to tell her about the incident Fr Grundhaus was the priest at our wedding. I didn’t think of the Columbus incident again for a very long time.
In the early 90’s when the sexual abuse information starting to come out and become public, it started me to think about what had happened again. As I listened more and more to peoples’ stories and commentators speaking about grooming and silence and shame that victims had, it started to bother me more and more.
It continued to gnaw at me that I might not be the only one. And I didn’t know what to do about it. Up to this point I had not told anyone about anything, about what had happened, not even my wife. Father Grundhaus had, over the years, developed a deep relationship with our entire family and I knew that this information would crush my family – especially my parents –who thought of Father Grundhaus as a son.
Through my involvement in the TEC program Father had mentioned to me 3 times that I should be a deacon. Each time I refused. I had no desire to be a deacon at that point in my life. I don’t know the year – but Patty and I were working a TEC weekend and getting ready for a TEC event – I was in the sacristy at the Cathedral in Crookston. Father walked into the sacristy and I was standing with my back to the door – working in the sound room I believe. When I came out Father was standing there and said: “Can I talk to you for a minute?” Of course, I said: “Yes.”
At that point, he said: I want to apologize to you for what I did to you in Columbus, OH. I went to confession about this and I am deeply sorry. He said: if that incident caused you any harm I am willing to pay for any counseling you might need or any financial assistance that you would need because of it. He said something to that effect: I have money if you need some. The rest is a bit vague – I was shocked. I know I replied: Father I don’t think it affected me too much. I thought it was something brothers would do. He replied: I didn’t think it affected you too much because you are married and had five children, then he laughed. I said: I accept your apology. He left and I had to go back to the TEC business.
After that weekend was over – I became very concerned with the conversation. I felt like I had let him off the hook. I was concerned after all the media and reports that there is always more than 1 victim. So, I decided to see him. I drove to Crookston in the middle of that week to the Chancery to see him at his office. I walked into his office and asked his secretary if he was in. His secretary said yes and I got to meet Father Grundhaus in his office. I closed the door and told him: We have to talk. He moved from behind his desk and sat in the chair next to me. I told him: You came and apologized to me the other day about that incident in Columbus and I accepted your apology. That apology is conditional. Then I asked: You have to tell me the truth. Were there any others? He said: No. I told him, I really had to believe him because there is always more than one. He swore that I’m the only one he ever had touched. He then told me that I wasn’t the only one who suffered from that incident. That he too had suffered from it. He told me that he was offered to be the bishop of the Duluth Diocese a number of years ago. He had refused because he knew this subject would come up – about any sexual abuse. He told me that he would have lied about it no matter what – but felt refusing the appointment would be the best way to go. I stressed again that there had better not have been any others and he assured me there wasn’t. I left his office.
Several years later – I was working at his house on the Mount grounds where he was living and removing a wall and other things. During the time I was working in the house when we were alone he told me that his doctor had prescribed medication for him for something – and that it had lowered his sex drive considerably – and that he was very happy about that. I thought it was odd and extremely strange and said something like: well that’s good, or something to that effect. So, leaving there – I thought it very bizarre that he even said anything like that.
It started to bother me a lot. I had been trying to put this thing in my past and here he brought it up again. Meanwhile I was learning more and more and more about sex abuse in the Crookston Diocese and beyond and wondering: Really – how many more victims were there? My silence was beginning to affect me emotionally.
Somewhere in 2009-2010 we were attending PLP classes with the then deacon candidates because some of us were thinking about diaconate. We were studying Johannine Liturgy and Msgr. Goering was the teacher. Also in that same year – Father Lefor from the Newman Center in Grand Forks called me and asked me to look at replacing a window in their dining area. While there I told him I was discerning the diaconate and taking these classes. I was ready to leave the Center and something prompted me to talk to him. I went into his office. I told him the story of what happened in Columbus OH. The reason I told was that I felt for sure this would somehow or another come up through my preparations for diaconate formation. There was talk of psychiatric evaluations, background checks etc. and I just didn’t’ know how to deal with it. I’d known Father Lefor for a number of years and so this was comfortable for me. He told me he was disgusted at this and at who it was and the man should be punished. He asked for his name. I told him it was Father Grundhaus. Father Lefor said he was a mandated reporter and he had to report this. I replied I really didn’t want to do this and prosecute Grundhaus. He said it didn’t matter and that he’d have to inform Msgr. Goering and he’d handle it from there. I felt bad about this because I knew the can had now been opened up. I left his office with a lot of feelings of apprehension, not certain what would happen next.
I don’t recall if it was the same day or next day that Msgr. Goering called me and asked me what was going on. I recounted the story. He said: I have to report this. I have to contact the police in Columbus OH and see if there was a report at the time. I told him there wouldn’t be because it was never reported. He called me back within a short time – maybe the same day – and told me that he had called Bishop Hoeppner with the report. He told me that the Bishop would be contacting me.
I really didn’t know what to think about that. This was escalating beyond what I thought it would go. That afternoon Bishop Hoeppner did call me on my cell phone and said he’d like to meet me. He said Msgr. Goering called him and we needed to meet the next morning at 9 am in his office.
I was at the Chancery office before 9 and told the receptionist I was here to see Bishop Hoeppner. Did I have an appointment – yes, I talked to him yesterday. No one knew of this meeting – not my wife nor anyone else. I sat in the receptionist’s office for an hour and half wondering what was going on. Finally, he himself came down and asked me to come up to the office. He apologized after making me wait so long – and that he had another meeting and he had not notified Bonnie (secretary) about our meeting and so things got messed up on the schedule. We went to his office and he closed the door. I sat down and he remained standing. In a very angry voice He said: Mgrs. Goering called me yesterday and said you have an accusation against Msgr. Grundhaus. He asked if I was going to sue the diocese, was I going to bring a lawsuit, :you know that is a very lengthy process. Msgr. Grundhaus has been a good and faithful priest in the diocese. I have never heard of any accusations against him. - Not one word of apology or sadness for my situation or anything to do on how he could help me. Much different than the reaction of Fr. Lefor.
Tell me about it. I told him what happened in Columbus OH. He had sat down at this point. He informed me that he had not brought Msgr. Baumgartner, who was the current Vicar General, into this conversation because he didn’t think he needed to know at this point and he decided he needed to find out what was going on first. He asked me if I wanted to press charges or file a formal complaint. I didn’t know what that involved. I told him that I wasn’t here to besmirch or destroy his reputation as he is a good friend of the family. I explained to him that I went to Fr. Lefor because I felt this subject would come up if I entered into the Diaconate program.
He explained to me that Fr. Grundhaus had served the diocese faithfully for many years and he had never heard of any accusations like this prior. I replied that was a good thing, but it happened to me. He kept pressing me on what I wanted to do. He asked me how many people knew of this. I told him besides Grundhaus, Fr. Lefor, Msgr. Goering and himself; not even my wife knows – I’ve never told her this. He talked about how detrimental it would be to Grundhaus should these accusations come to light and that he had been a faithful servant to the diocese. I told him it was not my intention to ruin his reputation – but I wanted to know what would happen through the diaconal process. He said: It shouldn’t be an issue – if I didn’t mention it. Through the conversation he made it very clear that this was to stay in his office and that I was not to reveal this to anyone. I told him it’s difficult not to mention this to my wife and he replied; “Ron it’s a cross you’re going to have to carry. Sometimes we have to keep things to ourselves.” At this meeting, I told him of Grundhaus apologizing and of his comments to me about his sex drive and the medication. He agreed with me that that was a good thing and that he would ask Grundhaus at their next yearly meeting how he was doing with his sexual urges, or something to that effect. He also suggested that I ask Grundhaus how things were going the next time I talked to him. He was asking the victim to address the perpetrator. I was shocked to learn that this would be a conversation a Bishop would have with his priests. I then asked if he was going to talk with Grundhaus about our conversation today. He said: No. It was not a good idea. Somewhere in this conversation, also, I relayed the conversation I had with Grundhaus in his office after the TEC apology. I told Bishop that Grundhaus had mentioned having turned down the offer to be bishop of Duluth because he thought it likely that he would have had to lie about his past to get it - had he continued along that path. Bishop Hoeppner asked: Grundhaus told you he’d lie. I said: yes. I left the meeting promising the bishop that I would not share that we had this meeting with anyone. I was conflicted about this because I was still bothered about if there were more victims; and it was getting harder to keep from my wife. I was thinking about my respect for my parents – and not telling I knew my parents would blame themselves for what happened to me. I was now also thinking: What kind of Bishop do we have that he won’t address this issue with all the sexual abuse that’s going on?
I continued to hold this in my heart and it bothered me now every day, especially as I entered into the diaconate program. I was very nervous about when this would come up through the process. As far as I was concerned I had a very strained relationship with the Bishop at this point. But I never let it out in public that anything was awry. I decided to ‘play ball.’
I entered into the diaconate program and none of the subjects came up through the process, including the psych eval and I felt relief in the fact that it hadn’t come up in the application. Interiorly, I was still conflicted that somehow, I should have done more. But I thought I was doing what the bishop wanted.
October 21 2015 was when something came up. I got a phone call from Bishop Hoeppner in the morning and he needed to speak to me – in his private residence and not at the chancery office. I asked him what it was about and he wouldn’t say. We had been sharing with Fr. Bob how difficult the studies for diaconate were and I thought maybe that’s what this is about. I told him I had to clear my schedule and I would let him know what time I could be there. I felt if the Bishop calls you, you should make time; it’s important. I texted him a time and his reply was that it would work. I texted back: OK.
I went to the Bishop’s private residence and he invited me in and we sat in the patio area inside. He asked me how class was going and I told him we were struggling and it was tough. The Bishop standing up asked me to sit down and had a piece of paper in his hand; he handed it to me and said: Msgr. Foltz got a call from the Diocese of Fargo and told him that they have a report on file about Msgr. Grundhaus and that the Diocese of Crookston was to let Msgr. Grundhaus know that he was not allowed to minister in the Fargo Diocese or something to that effect. He continued: We have this letter which Msgr. Foltz wrote and we need you to sign it. I then read what he handed me. The letter read something to the effect: That while on a trip to Columbus OH in 1971 with Fr. Grundhaus nothing happened. That’s the gist of how I remember the letter. There was more but I don’t recall it precisely. He said I was to sign it so they could have it in the file in case something ever came up. I told him that this letter wasn’t true. Because something DID happen in Columbus OH and I reminded the Bishop that it happened but I didn’t want to pursue it and damage Msgr. Grundhaus’ reputation. Proceeding in the conversation Bishop made it clear to me that it would be difficult to ordain me if this got out. Saying something like: If this scandal about Grundhaus gets out how could I ordain you, where would I put you, who would want you? You would be involved in this scandal and there would be nowhere to place you. He also said: This will also be very difficult for your son, Fr. Craig, since he’s in this diocese. At that point, there was no doubt in my mind: He was threatening me. He insisted again that I sign that letter; and knowing now he had control over my son’s life - I decided to sign the letter. I did sign the letter. Bishop took the letter and sealed it in an envelope in front of me and said: This is going into my file and the vault in case we ever need it. I did not get a copy of the letter I signed. At this point I was so confused why this letter was needed. But he said they could use it to do something with the Diocese of Fargo – and I wasn’t certain what that was. I asked him at this point: Are you going to inform Grundhaus of this letter and of our conversation here today? I told him that I thought it be important that Grundhaus knows what we know so that he would know why he couldn’t minister in the Fargo Diocese? I thought it was only fair he knows why. Bishop said that he and Foltz would handle that but that he didn’t think it necessary to inform Grundhaus and he told me specifically not to let Grundhaus know either.
I left the house feeling like I had betrayed myself but feeling I had no other choice. The next morning, I got a phone call from Patty, my wife, informing me that the Bishop wanted to talk to me. Did I need his number? No – I had it. I thought it very strange the bishop would call my residence knowing I’m working. Patty was home on her day off. I called immediately upon getting off the phone with Patty. Not knowing what it was about. From what I recall of that conversation that he wanted me to know that Foltz had taken care of the Diocese of Fargo and that I didn’t need to worry about it. There was more to that conversation – but I honestly don’t recall much of it. At the end of it – though – I told him: Patty is going to want to know why the bishop called. I’m not going to lie to my wife – so here is the question I want you to ask me for when Patty inquires why you called me – Ron: how are the diaconate classes going? I hear they’re very difficult – how are you doing? So, he then asked me that. And I told him they are very difficult and thank you for calling and asking. Before the end I asked specifically: Bishop, I have to ask you this: DO you believe me? He replied: Yes. I replied: Good. It’s important for me to know that.
Then I asked if my diaconate ordination was in jeopardy. He said: No. As long as this stays quiet. When I got home that evening – Patty asked me the exact question I thought she would. And I told her the Bishop was concerned about the deacon candidates’ classes and how everybody was doing. She asked if he called others and I said I wasn’t sure.
From this point, I felt so violated and ashamed of what I had done in signing that letter which I knew was false and a lie.
About 3 weeks later or so Bishop was in Tabor saying Mass. I was Communion distributor for that Mass. As I was putting vessels away Bishop looked around the sacristy and there was no one there. He comes up to me and told me that he and Foltz had decided not to talk to Grundhaus about the letter but that Foltz told Grundhaus it was best not go into the Diocese of Fargo – though how that was worded I don’t recall because it came off to my ears as legalistic. But I clarified: So Grundhaus doesn’t know about all this. And he replied: No.
This was my last contact with Bishop Hoeppner on this issue until May of 2017.
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