The former altar boy said the abuse always happened in the same place — a storage area behind the altar at St. Boniface Church in Hastings, usually as the altar boy and “Father Fran” cleaned up after a funeral or midweek mass.
On Thursday, that altar boy, now 36, recounted those details in a Dakota County courtroom and saw ex-priest Francis Hoefgen for the first time since 1992. The man broke decades of silence to report the alleged sexual abuse to police in 2013.
“I wanted something done,” the man said when asked why he came forward. “I wanted him to pay. I want him to go to prison.”
Hoefgen, who has left the priesthood and lives in Columbia Heights, faces two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is one of the few priests to face criminal charges for alleged sex offenses that are decades-old.
Jurors listened as the man detailed the progression of Hoefgen’s alleged abuses when the man was in fourth, fifth and sixth grades at St. Boniface’s parochial school. The Star Tribune is not naming the man because he is the victim of an alleged sexual assault.
At first, the man said, he liked “Father Fran.” They talked about the boy’s family — his parents’ divorce, his mother’s struggle with alcohol. He even opened up about being sexually abused by a family member.
“He had me show him,” the man said Thursday.
He said Hoefgen then fondled him. That later progressed to oral sex and anal penetration, the man said.
Hoefgen showed no emotion as he listened to the man’s occasionally tearful testimony, taking notes and transferring his gaze between the man and Assistant Dakota County Attorney G. Paul Beaumaster.
The alleged abuses went unreported, the man said, because Hoefgen threatened to send him back to live with his mother.
The man kept quiet until he saw a 2013 media account of a woman who came forward with allegations against another priest. Before then, the man said, he turned to alcohol and drugs to forget.
“[It was] something I’ve tried to bury for years,” he said.
The man said he called the law firm listed in the news story. Then he and an investigator for the firm contacted police.
Hoefgen’s accuser also sued him in 2013 under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which opened a three-year window for filing lawsuits over decades-old child sex abuse claims.
According to that lawsuit, filed in Dakota County, Hoefgen told police that he had abused another boy at a parish in Cold Spring, Minn., in 1983. He then spent six months at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., for psychological treatment, but criminal charges were never filed. Hoefgen was assigned to St. Boniface in Hastings in 1985.
The civil case is on hold until Hoefgen’s criminal case ends.
Earlier Thursday, Mindy Mitnick, a psychologist who studies delayed disclosure, testified about why some abuse victims wait years or even decades to report it.
During cross-examination, Hoefgen’s lawyer, Michael Colich, asked if it was possible for victims of child abuse to transfer blame to someone else. Mitnick said that’s possible in cases involving a stranger.
But in cases like this, she said, “it’s improbable.”