Suit: Priest Admitted Abuse, Stayed Active
By Amy Forliti
November 19, 2013
A Minnesota man who claims he was sexually abused by a priest from 1989 through 1992 sued the Twin Cities archdiocese, St. John's Abbey and a center that treats clergy with psychological issues on Tuesday.
The lawsuit claims Francis Hoefgen, a former monk and priest, was at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church in Hastings when he molested the plaintiff, who was 10 to 13 years old at the time. It alleges the defendants were negligent and should have known Hoefgen was a danger because he admitted to abusing a teenage boy just a few years earlier. It also alleges church officials didn't warn Hoefgen's new parish about the risk.
"This is quite disturbing, quite alarming. But also quite familiar and quite typical," said Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the plaintiff, who's identified in the lawsuit as Doe 27. "All of these entities made conscious choices to conceal, instead of reveal, the truth about the hazard and because of it, countless kids were hurt."
Hoefgen did not return a message seeking comment. His attorney, Robert Stich, said Tuesday he had just received the complaint and was in the process of analyzing it.
Anderson said this lawsuit marks the first time St. Luke Institute, a treatment center in Maryland, has been sued for its role in returning abusive priests to ministry. He said St. Luke has been a "recycling center for offending clerics for decades." The other defendants include Hoefgen himself and the Order of St. Benedict.
Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for St. Luke Institute, said the treatment center hadn't been served with the lawsuit so she couldn't respond.
The lawsuit says Hoefgen became a Benedictine monk at St. John's Abbey in 1973 and was ordained a priest in 1979. He served at St. Boniface in Cold Spring from 1979 to March 1984.
According to a signed police statement provided by Anderson, Hoefgen admitted on March 19, 1984, that he had performed oral sex on a teenager on two occasions in the living room of St. Boniface rectory in 1983. In the statement, given to a Stearns County sheriff's deputy and a former Cold Spring police chief, Hoefgen said the teen was living with him at the time. Hoefgen also told law enforcement he had not been sexually involved with anyone else.
Charges weren't filed. According to a 1986 memo that Anderson's firm obtained in prior litigation, Stearns County prosecutors declined to charge Hoefgen because the information did not support prosecution and Hoefgen had completed treatment.
Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall said her office destroyed records from that time period regarding cases in which authorities declined to file charges, according to records retention practices.
After the admission, Hoefgen was sent to St. Luke Institute for six months, then was returned to active ministry and sent to Hastings in 1985.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said it is investigating claims against Hoefgen, noting that the abbey removed him from public ministry in 1992. Spokesman Jim Accurso said Hoefgen was removed from priesthood in December 2011.
A spokesman for St. John's Abbey said officials hadn't reviewed the lawsuit and couldn't comment. Brother Aelred Senna also said by email that Hoefgen left St. John's in 2011 and is no longer a monk or priest.
Anderson said the lawsuit names both the archdiocese and the abbey as defendants because at the time of the alleged abuse, Hoefgen was a member of the order at St. John's Abbey, but was serving in a parish in the archdiocese so they had joint responsibility.