A former Hastings priest testified Friday that he did not sexually abuse an altar boy more than 20 years ago.
"I've waited 18 months for this day," Francis Hoefgen said inside a Dakota County courtroom.
During about 25 minutes of testimony, Hoefgen, 64, of Columbia Heights, said he didn't remember the boy who said Hoefgen abused him at St. Boniface Church in the late 1980s and '90s.
Hoefgen faces two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and is one of a few priests to face criminal charges for alleged sex offenses that are decades old. As they have all week, about a dozen supporters sat behind Hoefgen in the courtroom.
The defense's case concluded after Hoefgen's testimony. The jury recessed for the holiday weekend and will return Tuesday to hear closing arguments and begin deliberating.
Hoefgen kept two white lilac blossoms in a paper cup at his table Friday. His attorney, Michael Colich, later said that the flowers commemorated the anniversary of Hoefgen's mother's death.
Hoefgen told jurors that he is the youngest of 13 children who grew up in Michigan. He said he came to Collegeville, Minn., to study at St. John's University and that he joined St. John's Abbey in 1972 "to lead a monastic life and seek God and community."
Hoefgen's accuser, now 36, told jurors Thursday that Hoefgen's abuse progressed from fondling to oral and anal penetration when the man was in fourth, fifth and sixth grades at St. Boniface's parochial school. He said "Father Fran," as Hoefgen was called, abused him during the school year, usually after the two cleaned up after a funeral or midweek mass. The Star Tribune is not naming the man because he is the victim of an alleged sexual assault.
When Hoefgen took the stand Friday, a whiteboard behind him still had the diagram his accuser drew to detail the room in which the alleged abuses occurred. But Hoefgen denied having any memory of the room's existence.
Hoefgen, who left the priesthood in 2012, also said there were too many students at the parish to have the same altar boy assist year-round and that there was no need for students to stay after mass or funeral services.
Eventually, both Colich and Assistant County Attorney G. Paul Beaumaster directly asked Hoefgen if he had ever had sexual contact with his accuser.
"Absolutely not," Hoefgen said.
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 the suit 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.
During his testimony, Hoefgen's accuser said the priest threatened to send him back to live with his estranged mother or have him removed from school. He said he stepped forward after seeing a 2013 media report of a woman who came forward with allegations against another priest.
"I wanted him to pay," he said. "I want him to go to prison."