Former Hastings priest charged with raping altar boy for years

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(StarTribune) A onetime priest at a Catholic parish in Hastings was charged Wednesday with repeatedly sexually abusing an altar boy in the late 1980s and into early 1990s, acts that allegedly occurred after he was removed from a central Minnesota parish after similar behavior.

Francis Hoefgen, 63, of Columbia Heights, was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly abusing the boy from early 1989 to late 1991. Hoefgen posted bondWednesday and was released from the Dakota County jail.

The abuse began when the victim was 9 or 10 years old years old and an altar boy at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church (formerly St. Boniface), where Hoefgen was assigned, according to the charges.

The complaint said the abuse occurred “on several occasions over an extended period of time” and involved anal and oral sex and fondling.

“It is not surprising that the victim waited over 20 years to come forward,” said County Attorney Jim Backstrom. “Most child victims repress the troubling memories for many years … and often have feelings of guilt, humiliation, shame and confusion. These innocent victims simply do not realize at the time or until many years after that this abuse is not their fault.

“It takes a lot of courage for any such victims to come forward. There are few crimes that carry such long-term negative impact as sexual abuse. I hope the publicity surrounding this matter will empower more victims to come forward.”

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national clergy sex abuse watchdog group, said in a statement released by regional director Joelle Casteix, “We applaud Hastings-area law enforcement for thoroughly investigating [Hoefgen], as well as the sex abuse and cover-up documents in his secret personnel file.”

The group added that if those allegedly abused by Hoefgen had not stepped forward, the public may have never learned the extent of the cleric’s crimes. In fact, he would probably still be working with vulnerable children.”

Hoefgen’s alleged abuses, dating to the early 1980s and stretching into the 1990s, 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.

According to the complaint:

Hoefgen admitted to police in Cold Spring 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.

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.

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.

Less than a year after returning to Minnesota, Hoefgen was assigned to St. Boniface in Hastings. According to the suit, he began abusing a boy in the parish in 1989 and continued abusing him for years afterward. The alleged abuse was not reported to police at that time.

Anderson had also sued the priest in 1992 in connection with the Cold Spring case, alleging that Hoefgen molested the boy at least four times after allowing the teen to move into the parish house. The boy was having difficulty living at home and had attempted suicide, the suit read.

In 2002, the abbey released an apology from Hoefgen for his acts in Cold Spring that said he was sorry for “the incredible pain I have caused.”

Along with his duties in Cold Spring and Hastings, Hoefgen had also ministered at the Villa Maria Retreat and Conference Center in Frontenac, Minn.

He was removed from ministry in 2002 and left the St. John’s Benedictine order in 2012, the Twin Cities diocese said.

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Former Hastings priest charged with raping altar boy for years
StarTribune
MAy 21, 2014
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482
Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551

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Topics: Fran Hoefgen, Joelle Casteix

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