Clergy misconduct lawsuit targets St. John's Abbey

11:44 PM, Nov 19, 2013   |    comments
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Father Francis Hoefgen

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In his latest John Doe sex abuse lawsuit, attorney Jeffrey Anderson targets a former Twin Cities priest and the order he belonged to until 2011, based at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville.

The plaintiff is a man who alleges he was sexually abused between 1989 and 1992 by Father Francis Hoefgen, who at the time served at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings.

Anderson and his legal team maintain that Hoefgen should've been kept from taking that post in Hastings based on his prior behavior in a different parish.

The alleged victim said the abuse started when he was 10 and ended when he was 13, at the same time Hoefgen was reassigned to another church facility in Frontenac.

"We thank this victim for having the courage to coming forward," Pat Wall, a former priest at the same parish who has now become a victims advocate, told reporters at a St. Paul press conference.

"Now we know he should never have met Fran Hoefgen. He should never have been sexually abused."

The suit also names the Order of St. Benedict, based at St. John's Abbey, which Hoefgen joined in 1973 and later became ordained as a priest.

The complaint alleges that the leadership at St. John's and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis should have known that assigning Hoefgen to the Hastings parish would put children at risk, based on a prior incident.

In 1983 Hoefgen told Cold Spring Police Chief Vince Konz and Stearns County Deputy Sheriff Ralph Boeckers that he had consensual oral sex with a 16-year-old boy who on two occasions.

Hoefgen at the time was the priest at Saint Boniface in Cold Spring, and met the youth while visiting parish residents at the St. Cloud Hospital.

He told police the sexual encounters occurred when the teenager came to stay temporarily at the St. Boniface Rectory.

Within days of admitting the relationship to police, Hoefgen left the state for Saint Luke Institute, a Catholic treatment center in Silver Springs, Maryland.

The medical director of Saint Luke, Dr. Michael Peterson, sent Chief Konz a letter apologizing that he hadn't kept police in the loop about Hoefgen's whereabouts.

"I apologize first if I did not consult you prior to my strong recommendation to Father Hoefgen and his religious superior, Father Jerome Theisen, of St. John's Abbey that he leave the State of Minnesota for psychiatric evaluation immediately."

The Stearns County Attorney's office kept the case open for three years, but in 1986 decided not to prosecute Hoefgen. Among the reasons listed in the prosecutor's memo was that Hoefgen had completed treatment.

The prosecutor also was under the impression that Hoefgen would not be working with children in his future assignments.

"I am reliably informed that due to  his involvement in this matter, concerns for his further contact with young persons has been identified and dealt with in appropriate manner," the memo read.

Hoefgen lived at St. John's Abbey when he returned from Maryland, and in 1985 was assigned to the Saint Boniface Parish in Hastings. That parish later merged with Guardian Angels Parish to form St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.

"So basically is Fran is the lion, and these guys are the lion tamers," Wall asserted, pointing at a poster with the photos of former St. John's Abbott Jerome Theisen and former Archbishop John Roach."

"And they turned him loose on Hastings. That's sad part. That's the greatest sadness I feel."

Abbot Theisen died in 1995 and Archbishop Roach died in 2003.

Hall and Anderson charged that Theisen and Roach both played a role in shuffling problem priests from one parish to another without warning parishioners about the risks those priest may pose.

Anderson asserted that St. Luke Institute also played a part in exposing children to risk by "recycling hundreds of priests" who'd been involved in misconduct, allowing them to be placed back into the ministry.

"Saint Luke is named because all of these clerics, in concert and coordination, chose to consciously keep secret a clerical crime," Anderson said, pointing to the same poster with the faces of Abbot Theisen and Archbishop Roach.

The pace of the Anderson lawsuits has picked up this year because of a new state law, which makes it easier to go after institutions.

The Child Victims Act, which became law in July, gives older victims of child sexual abuse up to three years to bring cases against their abusers and the institutions that allowed it to occur.

Response to lawsuit

Father Hoefgen did not answer the door at his Columbia Heights townhome on Tuesday afternoon.

KARE attempted to contact Hoefgen at the Twin Cities funeral parlor where he has recently worked part-time, but the management of the funeral service later called KARE to say Hoefgen was no longer an employee.

Saint John's Abby could not comment on the specifics of the case, because the staff hasn't had time to review it yet.

"We are saddened to learn today of allegations of misconduct by a former member of our monastic community who left Saint John's in 2011," St. John's spokesman Aelred Senna wrote to KARE.

"As a community, Saint John's holds any form of sexual abuse to be morally reprehensible and a violation of our vow to a celibate and chaste life committed to mutual respect among all persons. Thus, over the past decade, we have developed policies and procedures to respond responsibly in a manner that includes a pastoral focus."

Saint Luke Institute will have no comment on the suit until the hospital has been formally served papers, according to spokespersons Susan Gibbs.

She said that, as of Tuesday afternoon, the treatment center had not been served.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also issued a statement Tuesday, noting that in 1992 the Abbey restricted Hoefgen's faculties, so he was no longer allowed to serve in public ministries in his remaining nine years with the Order of St. Benedict.

"The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis continues to encourage anyone who suspects abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult within Church ministry-or any setting including the home or school-to first contact law enforcement," Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso wrote.

"Any act of abuse against a minor or vulnerable adult is reprehensible and morally repugnant and we will not tolerate it."

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