The attorney for former Cheyenne Bishop Joseph Hart accused the Wyoming diocese of “engaging in a smear campaign” against the clergyman, who’s facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse by Wyoming men.
Attorney Tom Jubin’s statement — sent to the Star-Tribune on Wednesday night — came hours after the Diocese of Cheyenne announced that a third Wyoming man was accusing Hart of abuse while Hart was bishop, an allegation that the diocese said was credible. The announcement came less than two months after the diocese said in a press release that the accusations brought by two other alleged victims were “credible and substantiated.”
Hart was the bishop and auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne from 1976 to 2001. Before that, he was a priest in western Missouri’s Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for 20 years. He’s faced accusations from his time in Missouri, and the diocese there settled with six accusers, an attorney for those victims told the Star-Tribune last month.
Hart has repeatedly denied any sexual misconduct.
In his Wednesday statement, Jubin repeated that stance and called on the diocese to leave the investigation to law enforcement.
“The Diocese is not an investigative agency, nor is it qualified to serve as one,” he wrote. “Now that it has been confirmed that there is an investigation by law enforcement professionals, what is the point, other than personal vendetta or a need to distract from the horrible headlines of the past few weeks, of the Diocese releasing such a press release about matters outside its competence?”
It’s unclear what “horrible headlines” Jubin was referring to. The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal has exploded anew of late, as a grand jury in Pennsylvania found that more than 300 priests there abused more than 1,000 children over several decades. The grand jury’s report implicates Pittsburgh’s former bishop — and the current cardinal in the Washington, D.C. archdiocese — in covering up the alleged abuse.
The Rev. Carl Gallinger, the diocese’s vicar general, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. He previously told the Star-Tribune that the diocese is required by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People “to be transparent.”
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The charter was first passed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and has been revised repeatedly — including in June — since then. Among other things, it directs church leaders to discipline offenders, to provide prompt response to accusations, to cooperate with civil authorities and to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about the abuse of minors.
On Wednesday, the diocese wrote that Hart declined to be interviewed by a church review board. In his statement, Jubin said that’s because the “diocese told (Hart’s) representatives that the current bishop (Steven Biegler) believes the unidentified complainants’ stories and that the Diocese had already referred the matter to police for investigation.”
The interview was “irrelevant” to Biegler, Jubin alleged, because he had “already made up his mind without hearing any contrary testimony.”
The diocese previously told the Star-Tribune that Biegler met with Hart in March to inform him that the church was notifying law enforcement of one of the allegations. In the months since, the church has learned of two more accusers and informed the Cheyenne Police Department.
Jubin called on the diocese to “desist and let law enforcement professionals do their job within a system where innuendo is not evidence and accusations are not convictions.”
While the diocese is not a law enforcement agency, it is part of a much larger, international organization. The Cheyenne diocese’s investigations into Hart have been forwarded to church officials in Rome, who will consider next steps with Hart, including whether to defrock the former bishop.
Though he is still a member of the clergy, Hart has been barred from publicly celebrating mass.