A former Cheyenne bishop sexually abused two Wyoming boys and a 2002 investigation into the claims by the Casper district attorney — which found the allegations had no evidence — was “flawed,” the diocese alleged Monday in an announcement.
Joseph Hart served as the bishop or auxiliary bishop of Cheyenne from 1976 to 2001. Before that, he was a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri for 20 years. He faced allegations of sexual abuse from several men from his time in Missouri. He has repeatedly denied the allegations in Wyoming and Kansas City and did so again Monday in a statement from his lawyer. He said he would cooperate with any investigation related to the claims.
According to a diocese statement, a Wyoming man had accused Hart of sexual abuse by 2002, and a second man came forward recently. Former Natrona County District Attorney Kevin Meenan investigated the claims in 2002 and found “there was no evidence to support the allegations,” according to the diocese.
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But the diocese launched its own investigation in December. An investigator found new evidence and “concluded that the District Attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed and that Bishop Hart sexually abused two boys in Wyoming,” according to the diocese’s announcement. A second investigation, by the Diocesan Review Board, “concurred with the investigator’s assessment that the allegations are credible and substantiated.”
As a result, the diocese reported the allegations to the Laramie County District Attorney, and the Cheyenne Police Department opened an investigation. A spokesman for the department declined to comment Monday, telling the Star-Tribune that Wyoming statute prohibited him from discussing suspects’ or victims’ names in sexual abuse cases.
A message left for the vicar general of the diocese was not returned late Monday afternoon.
The diocese wrote that the Kansas City diocese faced civil claims as a result of allegations against Hart and other priests, which resulted in “financial settlements in 2008 and 2014.”
“However, there were no trials and no determination of guilt or innocence,” the statement says. “Bishop Hart has consistently denied all allegations that he sexually abused minors.”
In a statement, Hart’s attorney, Thomas Jubin, called the diocese’s statement “bizarre” and “shocking and appalling” and said that it suggested “that current Bishop (Steven) Biegler has some personal interest in substantiating sexual abuse allegations against one of his predecessors.”
He said the diocese’s calling Meenan’s investigation “flawed” was “actionable defamation.”
In Jubin’s statement, Hart says he will cooperate fully with any subsequent investigation and is confident the allegations will be found to have “no merit.”
Hart says he learned of the new allegations by a diocese press release.
“In the interest of fairness to all involved, I have no further comment except to say that I will continue to pray that those who have suffered abuse, no matter at whose hands, receive justice and healing,” he said in the statement.
Hart was named in a 2004 lawsuit, along with other Kansas City diocese priests and officials. He was accused of abusing three boys, mostly between the 1960s and the 1980s. An Associated Press report from 2004 said Hart was accused of “improper activity with boys he (brought) from Wyoming back to Kansas City.”
That Missouri diocese later settled a lawsuit for $10 million over 47 pending sex abuse allegations, including some against Hart. The bishop in Kansas City, Robert Finn, apologized and said he would recommend that Hart and other accused priests have their “holy orders removed.”
Hart has been restricted from performing services in Cheyenne, and after the recent investigations, Biegler — the current bishop — “decided that St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in Torrington should remove Hart’s name from a building in the facility,” according to the statement.
In a statement, Biegler said he hoped church officials in Rome would find that the accusations against Hart are “credible and require disciplinary action.”
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children,” he wrote. “We have zero tolerance for sexual abuse of any kind.”
Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann
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