Abuse suit filed against St. Luke clergy treatment center

A lawsuit involving a Minnesota priest claims St. Luke Institute and the archdiocese concealed threat to minors.

Star Tribune, Minnesota/November 19, 2013

By Tony Kennedy and Richard Meryhew

A treatment center for abusive priests is among the targets of a lawsuit filed Tuesday by a man who said he was victimized by a Minnesota priest who had been treated there.

Jeff Anderson, the St. Paul attorney who filed the suit on behalf of “Doe 27,” said it is the first lawsuit under Minnesota’s new Child Victims Act to name St. Luke Institute as a defendant.

The center in Silver Spring, Md., has been a destination for the treatment of Minnesota Catholic monks and priests accused of sexual abuse of children, other sexual misconduct and addiction. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville also are named in the suit.

Anderson said at a news conference Tuesday that St. Luke “has been on our radar” for years. “They give priests ‘fit-to-serve’ labels that the bishops then use to continue the systemic pattern of secrecy.”

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Dakota County, involves the Rev. Francis Hoefgen, now 63. Coupled with a separate clergy sex abuse suit filed Monday, the archdiocese has been sued at least 21 times since the Child Victims Act lifted the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases and gave past victims a three-year window to bring previously barred claims.

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for St. Luke Institute, said she had not seen the lawsuit involving Hoefgen and could not comment. The archdiocese issued a statement saying it was investigating the claims.

Brother Aelred Senna, a spokesman for St. John’s Abbey, said abbey officials can’t comment on the lawsuit but believe “any form of sexual abuse to be morally reprehensible and a violation of our vow to a celibate and chaste life.” He said Hoefgen voluntarily left the St. John’s order in 2011 and is no longer a monk or priest.

Hoefgen, who now lives in Columbia Heights, did not answer his door or return several phone calls Tuesday.

According to the complaint filed by Anderson, Hoefgen admitted to police in Cold Spring, Minn., nearly 30 years ago that he sexually abused a 17-year-old boy while assigned to St. Boniface of Cold Spring in 1983. In 1984, Hoefgen was sent to St. Luke, where he stayed for about six months.

In July 1985, Hoefgen was assigned by the Benedictine Order at St. John’s and the archdiocese to serve at St. Boniface in Hastings, which merged with Guardian Angels Parish in 1987 to become St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The lawsuit alleges that St. Luke Institute, St. John’s Abbey and the archdiocese concealed Hoefgen’s past abuse and failed to warn parents in Hastings, even though they were aware that child molesters have a high rate of recidivism.

Claim of a quick coverup

Patrick Wall, a former priest who works with Anderson and who was assigned to replace Hoefgen in Hastings, said that the case is a classic illustration of how church officials work to cover up clergy sex abuse.

Four days passed between the time the St. John’s abbot learned of the abuse and sent Hoefgen to St. Luke. Wall said the apparent goal was to get ahead of a potential criminal case and stave off charges.

“They can move quickly when they need to,” Wall said. “And it’s a continuation of a pattern that has been in place now for several decades.”

Anderson released a document Tuesday showing that a psychiatrist wrote a letter on St. Luke Institute letterhead in March 1984 to the Cold Spring police chief. The psychiatrist and founding president of St. Luke, the Rev. Michael Peterson, apologized for not consulting with police about his “strong recommendation” that Hoefgen immediately leave Minnesota for a psychiatric evaluation. The letter describes St. Luke as a facility that deals exclusively with clergy who have “chemical dependency problems as well as other psychological problems.”

Despite Hoefgen’s admission, the Cold Spring case did not result in criminal charges. “I’m not persuaded that the interests of justice require further prosecution in this matter,” a Stearns County prosecutor wrote in 1986, according to an internal memo.

Headed to Hastings

Less than a year after returning to Minnesota, Hoefgen was assigned to St. Boniface in Hastings. According to the lawsuit, he began abusing a 10-year-old boy in the parish in 1989 and continued abusing him through 1992. The alleged abuse was not reported to police at that time.

“Fran is the lion, these guys are the lion tamers and they turned him loose on Hastings,” Wall said. “That’s the sad part. They knew.”

Wall said that Hoefgen was removed from Hastings “overnight” in October 1992 and sent to St. John’s after the archdiocese got word that Anderson was going to file a lawsuit in the 1983 Cold Spring case.

Like other suits by Anderson, the latest one presses for the archdiocese to release the names of 33 priests in the archdiocese and 17 clerics at the abbey who have been credibly accused of sexually molesting children. In 2011, as part of a separate case, St. John’s released the names of the 17 credibly accused Benedictines, but Tuesday’s lawsuit alleges that the list was later removed from the St. John’s website.

In a separate suit, attorney Patrick Noaker of Minnetonka filed a sexual abuse complaint Monday in St. Paul on behalf of a Colorado man. It accuses the late Rev. William Marks of abusing him when he was an altar boy at St. John’s Catholic Church in Hector, Minn. The complaint said the archdiocese knew of Marks’ abuse but did not act on it.

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