A former priest at a Catholic parish in Hastings was charged Wednesday with repeatedly sexually abusing an altar boy from 1989 to 1992, acts that allegedly occurred after he was removed from a central Minnesota parish following similar behavior.
Francis Hoefgen, 63, of Columbia Heights, was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly abusing the boy, who was between 9 and 12 years old.
Dozens of Minnesota priests have been accused of sexual misconduct, and the names of nearly 100 have been revealed in the past year. Many have been the subject of lawsuits, but Hoefgen becomes one of only a few to face criminal charges for allegedly abusing children.
“It is not surprising that this victim waited over 20 years to report this matter,” Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom said at a news conference Wednesday.
“Most child victims repress the troubling memories of their abuse for many years. While these victims suffer from ongoing emotional and psychological pain … they often have feelings of guilt, humiliation, shame and confusion.”
The criminal complaint said the abuse occurred “on several occasions over an extended period” and involved anal and oral sex and fondling.
The abuse allegedly happened in a room behind the altar at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church (formerly St. Boniface).
The victim, now in his mid-30s, reported the incidents to Hastings police last November, and Chief Bryan Schafer said officers were able to take him to the building, which is no longer used as a church, to corroborate details about the abuse.
Backstrom said Wednesday that before 1989, the statute of limitations required that criminal charges be filed within seven years of the abuse. Changes made by the Legislature in 1989 and in 1991 now require that criminal charges be filed within three years of the abuse being reported to law enforcement.
“The wheels of justice are sometimes slow to start,” Backstrom said. “But they are now moving forward.”
Hoefgen’s alleged abuses were outlined in a lawsuit filed in Dakota County by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson in November against a Maryland treatment center for abusive priests, the Twin Cities diocese and St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.
The plaintiff, identified as Doe 27, is the same man who is the alleged victim in the criminal charges filed Wednesday.
According to the lawsuit:
Hoefgen admitted to police in Cold Spring, Minn., roughly 30 years ago that he sexually abused a 17-year-old boy while assigned to St. Boniface of Cold Spring in 1983. In 1984, Hoefgen was sent to St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., and stayed for about six months.
Despite Hoefgen’s admission, the Cold Spring case did not result in criminal charges. “I’m not persuaded that the interests of justice require further prosecution in this matter,” a Stearns County prosecutor wrote in 1986, according to an internal memo.
In July 1985, Hoefgen was assigned to St. Boniface in Hastings, which merged with Guardian Angels parish in 1987 to become St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The suit alleges that the institute, St. John’s Abbey and the Twin Cities archdiocese concealed Hoefgen’s past abuse and failed to warn parents in Hastings.
Hoefgen was removed from the ministry in 2002 and left the St. John’s Benedictine order in 2012, the Twin Cities diocese said. Backstrom said that the last he knew, Hoefgen was working at a funeral home in Minneapolis.
Hoefgen turned himself in at the Dakota County jail on Wednesday morning and made his first court appearance. He was released on bail later in the day.
He is represented by Minneapolis attorney Michael Colich. A woman who answered the phone Wednesday at Colich’s office said that Colich had no comment on the charges against Hoefgen.
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