A Dakota County jury decided that there was not enough evidence to convict a former Hastings priests of criminal sexual abuse.

On Tuesday evening, after four hours of deliberations, the jury acquitted former priest Francis Hoefgen of two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. The trial had begun last Wednesday, May 20, and concluded earlier Tuesday.

Hoefgen, 64, now living in Columbia Heights, had been accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a former altar boy at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings from the spring of 1989 to the fall of 1991. Hoefgen had pleaded not guilty to the charges filed almost a year ago in Dakota Country District Court.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said it was difficult to prosecute the case.

“We respect the jury's decision in this matter and will always be grateful for the courage shown by the individual who came forward to share his story of sexual assault he said was inflicted upon him many years by the defendant,” he said. “Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred 24, 26 years years ago without significant collaborating physical evidence of the crime itself is always a difficult task. Without such corroborating evidence the jury must render the decision based primarily upon the person’s word against that of another.”

At the trial, Hoefgen denied the charges again and said he could not remember the complainant.

The charges against Hoefgen has been filed in 2014 following an investigation by Hastings Police after the complainant contacted police. He told them he had been sexually abused by Hoefgen when he (the complainant) was an altar boy at the church.

Hoefgen served at St. Boniface in Cold Spring from 1980 to 1984. While in Cold Spring, he admitted to sexually abusing a boy. He was sent to Maryland for treatment, and then, less than a year after returning to Minnesota, he came to Hastings. He was removed from the ministry in 2002.