HASTINGS, Minn. -- A Dakota County jury has found a former priest not guilty of molesting an altar boy 25 years ago at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings.
The former Rev. Francis Hoefgen, who had undergone treatment after a sexual abuse allegation in 1984 and was later reassigned to Hastings, was charged with criminal sexual conduct in May 2014 after a man stepped forward and claimed he had been abused between 1989 and 1991.
Hoefgen, 64, pleaded not guilty and a jury trial began last week. The jury acquitted him Tuesday evening.
Hoefgen broke down and sobbed with friends and family after the not guilty verdicts were read. He left the Hastings courtroom without commenting.
Hoefgen testified that he had no recollection of his accuser and denied molesting him.
His attorney, Michael Colich of Minneapolis, cast doubt on the specifics of the 36-year-old man’s accusations, including that he was molested after serving at funeral and school Masses.
Colich said the prosecution never proved the accuser actually served as an altar boy, and in any case, he said, altar boys normally didn’t remain at church after funeral or school Masses.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said he was grateful the alleged victim came forward even though the jury did not convict Hoefgen.
“Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred 24-26 years ago without significant corroborating physical evidence of the crime itself is always a difficult task,” Backstrom said in a statement. “Without such corroborating evidence the jury must render its decision based primarily upon one person’s word against that of another.”
The man who accused Hoefgen also has filed a civil lawsuit against the former priest, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and St. John’s Abbey, where Hoefgen took his monastic vows in 1973.
Hoefgen became a priest in 1979 and was assigned to St. Boniface Catholic Church in Cold Spring, where he remained until 1984. He entered treatment at the St. Luke Institute in Maryland that year after a boy accused him of sexual abuse.
The next year, 1985, the archdiocese placed him at St. Boniface in Hastings, which merged with Guardian Angels in Hastings to form St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1987. He stayed there until 1992, when the victim in the Cold Spring incidents filed suit.
He was defrocked in December 2011, according to the archdiocese.