Cheyenne police detectives are interviewing Catholic priests as potential witnesses in authorities’ nearly two year-long investigation into sexual abuse by members of the clergy here.
Cheyenne police spokesman David Inman said Thursday that the case is still being investigated by police in the capital, five months after the agency turned the case over to prosecutors. In an email, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Cheyenne said the church “hasn’t heard anything about priests being interviewed by the Cheyenne Police Department; therefore, the Diocese of Cheyenne cannot comment.”
Inman confirmed that the priests were being interviewed as witnesses, not suspects.
The case has ping-ponged between agencies in recent months, as the investigation drags into its 21st month. In August, Cheyenne police announced they were recommending sexual abuse charges against two men, one a former member of the clergy and another described as both an altar server and someone who had once attempted to join the priesthood.
Police say they then passed the investigation to Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove. But the Star-Tribune reported in August that the case was then handed to Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen because of a conflict of interest.
In a response to a public records request, Manlove confirmed that Itzen was handling the case and that it involved retired Bishop Joseph Hart, who has been accused of sexual abuse by more than a dozen men in Missouri and Wyoming.
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Hart has consistently denied the accusations.
The case was apparently with Itzen’s office until last month, when Cheyenne police said they were back “following up” on parts of the investigation at the direction of Itzen’s office. That work appears to still be going on.
“From what I know about talking with detectives is that there is still some interviewing to do and supplemental reports to be filled out for the case,” Inman, the police spokesman, wrote in an email Thursday.
The criminal investigation is nearly two years old: Cheyenne police previously said they began investigating in April 2018, as the Diocese of Cheyenne was deep into its own investigation into Hart. Police recommended charges in August 2019.
Hart, who is in his late 80s, was the bishop in Cheyenne for 25 years, retiring in 2001. From 1955 to 1976, he was a priest in Kansas City, Missouri, his hometown. Between the early 1990s and earlier this year, he’s been accused by at least 16 men of sexual abuse. The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese in Missouri has settled with 10 victims who said Hart abused them.
The criminal investigation into Hart has national implications: No bishop in U.S. history has been prosecuted for sexual abuse.
As criminal authorities continue their inquiry, Hart faces expulsion from the priesthood. He will reportedly face a trial at the direction of authorities at the Vatican in Rome. The state of that investigation is unclear: A Vatican spokesman has returned requests for comment only to confirm the existence of the inquiry.