Former Wyoming Catholic Bishop Faces Third Child Abuse Allegation
The Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, which includes the geographical area of Wyoming, announced Wednesday there was "credible and substantiated " evidence that a third person was abused by retired Bishop Joseph Hart, according to a press release from the Chancery Office in Cheyenne and Bishop Steven Biegler.
This new case came as a result of the diocese's announcement on July 2 that it had conducted a canonical investigation and concluded Hart had abused two Wyoming boys.
After this announcement, the third person came forward about an allegation of abuse in 1980. The diocese did not disclose the sex or the age of the victim.
The diocese reported the allegation to the Cheyenne Police Department and is cooperating with its investigation.
Catholic Church law requires the diocese to conduct a canonical investigation including notifying Hart and asking him for an interview to respond to the accusation, according to the press release. "He declined to be interviewed."
The results of the investigation were given to the Diocesan Review Board comprised of three men and four women who are parents, therapist, a psychologist, an educational administrator, the chancellor (church lawyer) and a priest. "The review board found the allegation credible and substantiated."
The diocese forwarded the initial investigation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican for its response.
Hart's attorney Tom Jubin of Cheyenne was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Biegler reopened the investigation into Hart in December 2017.
Last week, the Cheyenne Police Department announced it had reopened its investigation into Hart.
In Wednesday's announcement Biegler asked for prayers of healing for those affected by sexual abuse.
"I commend the victim for having the courage to contact us," Biegler wrote in the press release.
"If anyone has been abused, no matter how long ago, I encourage you to come forward," he wrote. "I want to listen to you and accompany you on a journey of healing. Recently Pope Francis said of the sex abuse scandal, 'We abandoned the little ones.' As we move forward, we must heed the call of the Lord Jesus to be guardians of the least."
The Catholic Church recently has been shaken by a new round of sexual abuse claims with the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania two weeks ago that detailed the abuses by hundreds of priests going back 70 years, and the reports this week that Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI covered up the allegations of sexual misconduct by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
The diocese urged anyone who has suffered sexual abuse to contact your local law enforcement agency or the Wyoming Department of Family Services.
For more information, contact the diocese at 638-1530.
Late Monday afternoon, Hart's attorney Tom Jubin issued this statement regarding the latest allegation:
CHEYENNE – Once again, the Diocese of Cheyenne is engaging in a smear campaign in an effort to try to influence public opinion with considerably less than the full story. The Diocese of Cheyenne continues to refuse to inform Bishop Hart what the allegations are that have been made against him and who is making them. Why would anyone agree to be interviewed by someone who refuses to fully and candidly explain the reasons for the interview?
Not only that, even before asking to interview Bishop Hart, through an unlicensed investigator, the Diocese told his representatives that the current bishop believes the unidentified complainants’ stories and that the Diocese had already referred the matter to the police for investigation. In doing so, the Diocese conveyed its belief that an interview is irrelevant as the current bishop had already made up his mind without hearing any contrary testimony. Bishop Hart continues to deny any sexual impropriety.
The Diocese is not an investigative agency, nor is it qualified to serve as one. 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 is time for 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.