Diocese says it's substantiated 3 more allegations against former bishop, bringing Wyoming total to 6

Diocese says it's substantiated 3 more allegations against former bishop, bringing Wyoming total to 6

Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne

This photo shows the offices for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne and the Cathedral of St. Mary on June 13. 

The Diocese of Cheyenne says it has substantiated three more allegations of sexual abuse against former Bishop Joseph Hart. This brings the number of alleged Wyoming victims of Hart who've had their allegations deemed credible to six.

The abuse allegedly occurred in the 1970s and 1980s after Hart came to the Wyoming diocese from a 20-year posting in Kansas City, Missouri. Two of the victims are Missouri residents who were allegedly abused on trips to Wyoming, according to a spokesperson for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. 

One of those victims was abused in Cheyenne, spokesperson Jack Smith told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday morning, while the other may have been abused in Casper. Both victims were Missouri residents traveling with Hart at the time of the alleged abuse, and both made reports to the Kansas City diocese in the past year. 

The two Missouri victims reported the abuse to the Kansas City diocese, who shared the information with church officials in Cheyenne, Smith said. It's unclear if any of the three new victims made reports directly to Cheyenne. Details about the third victim, who is not a Missouri resident, are unclear.

The Rev. Carl Gallinger, the vicar general of the Cheyenne diocese, requested that questions about the new allegations be sent to him via email. He had not responded to those questions as of 11 a.m. 

Smith said the victim who may have been abused in Casper was taken on a trip with Hart that included stops in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

According to a press release from the Cheyenne diocese announcing the findings, Hart declined to be interviewed as part of the investigation into the three new allegations. The former bishop has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The reports that Hart allegedly abused the juveniles on trips to Wyoming match previous allegations against the former bishop. Rebecca Randles, an attorney in Kansas City who's represented several of Hart's alleged victims in court, previously told the Star-Tribune that Hart would take Missouri boys on trips and abuse them. He and other Kansas City priests also had been accused of abusing boys during trips to a northern Missouri lake house.

Hart's attorney, Tom Jubin, did not return a request for comment sent Wednesday. He has not returned repeated attempts to contact him over the past month. He previously denied that Hart had abused anyone, including while on trips. 

A Star-Tribune reporter tried to speak with Hart briefly at his home last month. The former bishop, who lives in a diocese-owned house, declined to comment.

The announcement that the Cheyenne diocese has investigated and deemed credible three more allegations comes a little more than a year after current Bishop Steven Biegler announced that he had reopened an investigation into Hart and that the church had determined Hart had abused two Wyoming boys decades ago. A month later, in August 2018, the diocese announced it had substantiated another allegation.

It's unclear if the Cheyenne diocese is currently investigating any other reports against Hart. Smith, the spokesperson for the church in Kansas City, said the diocese had not received any new allegations against Hart in the past month. He said the Kansas City church's independent review board will meet later this month to determine if the four allegations they've received against Hart in the past year — including the two that Cheyenne just deemed credible — were substantiated.

The three new victims also come forward as law enforcement in Natrona County investigate two men for alleged clergy abuse decades ago. One of those men is almost certainly Hart, based on information released by police and by statements from the diocese. The Star-Tribune previously reported that the case would be handled by Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen as a special prosecutor, should charges be filed against Hart and the other man, who was an "altar server" when he allegedly abused a boy in the 1970s or 1980s.

Biegler told the Star-Tribune last week that the diocese has no plans to remove Hart from his diocese-owned home in Cheyenne because no determination had been made by the district attorney's office. Cheyenne police in August announced that they were forwarding charging recommendations to the Laramie County district attorney related to two men who allegedly abused boys in the 1970s and 1980s. Police and authorities have declined to name the two men, citing state statute.

The diocese will not relocate Hart from his current home "because the Diocese of Cheyenne has received no final determination from the Holy See" — referring to Vatican authorities also investigating Hart — "nor has there been any determination regarding the criminal case under review by the Laramie County District Attorney," Biegler wrote to the Star-Tribune.

SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, called on the diocese late last month to remove Hart from the home and to send him to a friary in rural Kansas, where disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick lives. McCarrick was removed from the priesthood last year over reports of sexual misconduct. 

The new allegations against Hart are the latest in a string of accusations that go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the family of a Missouri man — Kevin Hunter — alleged Hart abused him on trips around the West. Hunter died in 1989.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has settled with at least 10 men, including Hunter's brother, who've accused Hart of sexual misconduct. Randles previously told the Star-Tribune there are even more victims of Hart's in Kansas City who have yet to come forward.

It's unclear if the Cheyenne diocese has reached financial settlements with any victims of Hart. Biegler told the Star-Tribune that he "cannot comment" on any lawsuits "that may or may not have been made in the past that are subject to confidential agreement."

Hart has consistently denied wrongdoing. 

While criminal action may be coming in Wyoming, Hart is also facing adjudication through the Vatican. It's unclear where he is in that process, as Vatican officials have not returned messages from the Star-Tribune and have told other outlets they won't comment. But Hart is set to face a trial that could see him removed from the priesthood. Hart's ability to celebrate Mass publicly has been restricted since 2015.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann


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