Monk accused of abuse had 200 sexual partners

By John Croman
November 25, 2015

Attorney Jeff Anderson presents documents

ST. PAUL, Minn. --  Father Finian McDonald, who for years worked as a counselor at St. John's University, had sex with at least 200 people and paid child prostitutes for sex while abroad, according to documents released on Tuesday. 

Attorney Jeff Anderson released the personnel files of five monks and priests who were part of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville.

The five, including two who are now deceased, were previously listed by St. John's Abbey as credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Anderson said the redacted version of the posted on his website, show that priests who admitted battles with sexual urges still had access to potential victims.

"What the files show us is a culture of permissive access by known offenders," said Anderson, who for decades has represented child sex abuse victims in lawsuits against the Catholic Church and other institutions.

Among the documents was a 1992 psychological evaluation of McDonald.

According to the psychologist who authored the report, McDonald breaking his oath of celibacy and had sex with as many as 15 college students.

McDonald also admitted to the psychologist that he had stolen from church collection plates and paid young male prostitutes for sex while working in Japan. Anderson contends the McDonald continued to have access to young Catholics until five years ago.

"And he admits in the file an attraction to boys as young as 12, with no ability to control his sexual impulses," Anderson said.

The other files Anderson released Tuesday related to Frances Hoefgen, Bruce Wollmering, Richard Eckroth and Tom Gillespie. Eckroth and Wollmering are now deceased, and St. John's Abbey said that the other three are in situations where they're closely supervised.

In a statement posted online this week, St. John's Abbey said the files were turned over voluntarily in the interest of transparency and to further healing of the victims.

"The huge majority of the documents in each of these files acknowledges the very real failures of some monks while showing each of the accused monks as a fallible, relatable person," the statement read, in part.

Anderson's caseload grew considerably after Minnesota lawmakers passed the Child Victim Act in 2013, when opened up a three-year window for people who at least 24 years old to file sex abuse civil suits regardless of how much time had passed since the offense.

That window will close May 25, 2016, at which time Minnesota will revert back to the old six-year statute of limitations for such civil lawsuits. That's why Anderson is asking other victims of priest sex abuse to come forward as soon as possible.

"And when I say the clock is ticking there is yet but six months yet for survivors to find their voice, share their secret, and come forward and do something," Anderson told reporters.

"They don't have to use their name, and it can remain private and non public."

Anderson Tuesday was joined by abuse survivor Troy Bramlage, who began as a John Doe client in a lawsuit against St. John's Abbey and Father Allen Tarlton. The lawsuit, based on abuse that occurred in 1977, was settled out of court last year.

Bramlage urged other survivors to come forward and contact a therapist or an attorney before the May 25 deadline.

"The guilt that we feel as survivors does not belong to us," Bramlage said. "It belongs to the person that did this to us. And the shame belongs to the people that covered it up, behind us."

One of the priests whose file was released, Frances Hoefgen, was tried for sex abuse in criminal court last spring in Dakota County, but was acquitted by the jury. Anderson was disappointed that the trial judge wouldn't allow the jury to hear from other alleged victims.

"It was a real kick in the gut," Anderson remarked. "I mean it was heartbreaking for those survivors who were prepared to testify."

The Hoefgen personnel file includes a cancelled check for $28,000 and a reference to a payment of $30,000. Anderson contends the money was paid to Hoefgen to encourage him to leave the priesthood.

"Here they're paying offenders to be quiet, keep quiet and walk away quietly."

But St. John's Abbey disagrees with that characterization, and argues there's no evidence in the files that the abbey tried to cover up any allegations of abuse.


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