Former Hastings priest acquitted of sexual abuse charges

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A former priest was acquitted Tuesday of charges that he sexually abused a boy at a church in Hastings more than two decades ago.

A Dakota County jury found Francis Hoefgen, 64, not guilty of first degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly abusing the boy from 1989 to 1992 at the parochial school at St. Boniface Catholic Church, while he was serving as a priest at the parish.

Jurors deliberated about four hours before returning the verdict Tuesday afternoon, the Star Tribune reports. Hoefgen is one of a few clergy members to face criminal charges for abuse that allegedly occurred decades earlier.

Hoefgen’s accuser, a 36-year-old man who lives in Red Wing, testified last week that Hoefgen abused him repeatedly in a room behind the altar at the church, which has since been torn down, the Associated Press reports.

The accuser said the abuse occurred over three years, when he was in fourth through sixth grades, and ended when Hoefgen left the parish, according to the Associated Press. He said he didn't tell anyone about the abuse until 2013.

Hoefgen testified that he didn't remember the boy's name or the room behind the altar, and repeatedly denied that he abused the boy, according to the Star Tribune.

Hoefgen's attorney Michael Colich argued that the prosecutors didn't provide any evidence to back up the claims of the accuser and called their case "a disgrace," the Associated Press notes.

Colich claimed that police and prosecutors jumped to conclusions because the defendant was a Catholic priest.

The accuser in this case filed a civil lawsuit against Hoefgen in 2013.

Hoefgen, who was also a monk at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, is also the subject of a civil lawsuit against the abbey stemming from abuse allegations against him in 1983.

Hoefgen was assigned to the St. Boniface Parish in Cold Spring at that time when he admitted to sexually abusing a 17-year-old boy. He told police that he abused the teenager and was sent to a treatment program in Maryland for six months. He did not face criminal charges in that case.

The trial judge in Dakota County did not allow evidence of past abuse to be included in the current trial.

Hoefgen was placed on restrictions by St. John's in 2002. He left the priesthood in 2011, and lives in Columbia Heights, the Star Tribune notes.

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