- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

HASTINGS, Minn. (AP) - A former priest was acquitted Tuesday on charges that he sexually abused an altar boy at a Hastings church almost 30 years ago.

Francis Hoefgen broke down and sobbed with friends and family after the not-guilty verdicts were read. He left the courthouse without commenting, the St. Cloud Times reported (https://on.sctimes.com/1FNPSQR ).

The 36-year-old Red Wing man who accused Hoefgen of abusing him from 1989 to 1992, when he was in the fourth through sixth grades, hung his head in his hands and left before the court session ended.

Hoefgen, a former St. John’s Abbey monk and priest, was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The 64-year-old was accused of abusing the former altar boy when Hoefgen was associate pastor at St. Boniface Church in Hastings.

During his closing argument, defense attorney Michael Colich called the prosecution’s case “a disgrace.” He said police and prosecutors assumed the altar boy’s story was true and did no investigation to find evidence to support it. He said prosecutors didn’t even prove that he attended the parish school or that he served as an altar boy.

In fact, Colich said, the only evidence presented to the jury was by the defense and it showed that key points of the victim’s testimony were wrong.

“How can you convict someone when there’s no evidence besides (the victim) telling us it happened,” Colich told jurors.

But Prosecutor Paul Beaumaster told jurors that Hoefgen violated “the trust and the body” of the altar boy. His story was believable and it took courage to come forward and tell his story, Beaumaster said.

“For years he kept his secret, and he finally has come forward,” Beaumaster said.

Hoefgen took the stand in his own defense last week, repeatedly denying that he abused the boy. He told jurors he didn’t even remember his name.

But the accuser told jurors that Hoefgen raped him numerous times in a room behind the altar at the church.

Hoefgen was defrocked in 2011. He was serving at a church in Cold Spring in 1983 when he sexually abused a 17-year-old boy who was living with him temporarily at the parish residence. Hoefgen admitted the abuse to police, but he was never charged.

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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