Priest Admitted to Abuse, but Was Never Prosecuted

Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 25, 2002

Stearns County officials did not prosecute a Roman Catholic priest nearly 20 years ago even though he admitted having sexual encounters with a 17-year-old boy he was counseling, a newspaper reports.

The Rev. Francis Hoefgen, 51, told authorities about the abuse in 1984 after the boy came forward with allegations. A county prosecutor, however, decided not to file charges in the case, the St. Paul Pioneer reported Saturday.

Hoefgen is one of 13 monks or priests living under restrictions at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville because of allegations or admissions of sexual abuse. He is guest master at the abbey and leads spiritual retreats at Villa Maria Retreat and Conference Center near Frontenac. Hoefgen declined to comment.

Vincent Konz, then police chief in Cold Spring, where Hoefgen was an associate pastor at St. Boniface church, said Hoefgen told him he was trying to reach out to a troubled teen, according to court records.

Konz told the Pioneer Press that Hoefgen was his priest and that interrogating him "was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I always liked him."

But Konz completed the paperwork and turned the case over to County Attorney Roger Van Heel and discussed it with him in March 1984, according to court records. Konz confirmed his actions in an interview with the newspaper, saying he never heard back from Van Heel.

Prosecutor Patrick Strom wrote a memo two years later, in 1986, listing reasons for not prosecuting Hoefgen. Strom argued that the allegations did not fit the statutes and that the priest had completed treatment. Calls to the county attorney's office Saturday went unanswered, and it's unclear why there was a two-year gap between the date his office received the case and when the memo was written.

Two criminal law professors said that in the 1980s, authorities would have been reluctant to prosecute a priest. But John Sonsteng, a William Mitchell law professor, and Joseph Daly, a Hamline University law professor who has defended priests, said Hoefgen could have been charged with third- or fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The victim, now a 35-year-old Minneapolis resident who asked that his name not be used, told the newspaper that he later wondered why no action was taken against Hoefgen.

After police learned of the allegations of abuse in 1984, Hoefgen was sent to St. Luke Institute in Maryland for treatment and in 1985 took a position at St. Boniface Church in Hastings, which later merged with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Hoefgen left that job in 1992 when the victim filed a civil lawsuit in Dakota County District Court. A judge dismissed the lawsuit against Hoefgen and the church in 1993 because the statute of limitations had expired.

The victim recalled meeting Hoefgen when the priest visited him in a hospital in St. Cloud after he attempted suicide in 1983, court records show. The teen-ager told the priest that he worried that he was gay.

"He said that that was OK because God couldn't hate someone for loving someone," the victim recounted in a 1993 deposition.

After leaving the hospital, the teen-ager returned home briefly. But after fighting with his parents, he moved in with Hoefgen for a few weeks, the victim told lawyers during his deposition. Several months later the teen-ager told a psychologist what had happened. Following the state's mandatory reporting law, the psychologist reported the allegation to a social worker, who contacted Cold Spring police in March 1984.

The boy then told Konz and a sheriff's deputy that Hoefgen had sexual contact with him twice in 1983, according to court records.

Konz wanted to get the pastor out of town, and asked church officials if there was something they could do. When abbey officials said they could send Hoefgen to St. Luke's for treatment, Konz asked for assurances that the priest would be made available to answer any charges.

Those charges never came. When he was deposed in the civil suit, Konz said at the time of his investigation he was concerned about the impact on the community.

"There's so many small people in a small town like this, they could crucify (Hoefgen). And maybe he had it coming, but that wasn't the way things were handled in those days," Konz said.

When Van Heel, who is still the county attorney, was contacted by the newspaper, he said he didn't recall the investigation. He said documents had been destroyed because the case is more than 10 years old.

Van Heel's office did charge another priest with sexual abuse in a separate case. In 1979, Father Raoul Gauthier was charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct after he fondled a retarded male adult, according to the Stearns County criminal complaint signed by the same prosecutor who declined to charge Hoefgen.


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