The Vatican has exonerated Bishop Joseph H. Hart, emeritus of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on seven counts of child sexual abuse. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handled the canonical process, also said five other accusations “could not be proven with moral certitude.”
The accusations against the 89-year-old Bishop Hart involved 11 victims who were boys at the time of the alleged crimes, and one girl. “These findings do not equate to innocence,” A statement from the diocese of Cheyenne said on Monday, “rather, a high burden of proof has not been met.”
CDF made a technical ruling on two additional allegations two additional accusations, which, the tribunal said, “could not be considered delicts,” i.e. crimes at canon law, since the law at the time the incidents allegedly took place did not consider sexual misconduct with minors aged 16 or older to be a crime.
The alleged victims in those two cases were were 16 and 17 years old at the time of the alleged misconduct.
The statement from the Cheyenne diocese also says The CDF issued a canonical rebuke to Bishop Hart “for his flagrant lack of prudence as a priest and bishop for being alone with minors in his private residence and on various trips, which could have been potential occasions endangering the ‘obligation to observe continence’ and that would ‘give rise to scandal among the faithful’.”
CDF also rebuked Hart “for his disregard of the urgent requests that he refrain from public engagements that would cause scandal among the faithful due to the numerous accusations against him and the civil and canonical investigations and processes being conducted in his regard.”
CDF also reminded Bishop Hart of the “restrictions placed upon him in the communication from the Congregation for Bishops dated 2 October 2018,” which are, “still in force regarding the Holy Father’s prohibition that he refrain from ‘any contact with minors, youth, seminarians and vulnerable adults’ and from ‘presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of the Liturgy’.”
The Cheyenne statement also said there is another allegation against Bishop Hart, which the CDF decree did not treat. “As a matter of record,” the Cheyenne statement read, “it should be noted that the decree made no mention of assessing one credible allegation of a male under 16 years of age, which the Diocese of Cheyenne reported to the CDF.”
“This individual’s name was not listed in the allegations adjudicated in the penal process,” the Diocese of Cheyenne further specified.
In 2018, the Diocese of Cheyenne hired an independent investigator to look into the allegations. The investigator determined they were credible. The Cheyenne independent review board likewise determined “that proper procedures were followed; they agreed that we needed to report credible allegations to law enforcement; and they were convinced that we had sufficient evidence to conclude with moral certainty that the six accusations against Bishop Hart are credible.”
These findings were presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which has competence for coming to a final decision in such cases,” the statement from Cheyenne said. The Cheyenne review board had members with experience and expertise in a range of fields: law enforcement, psychology, pediatrics, pediatric abuse trauma psychotherapy, and law — including “a judge, who was a criminal prosecutor for 13 years involving crimes against children, primarily child sexual abuse.”
Bishop Hart was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 1956, and served there for two decades before becoming an auxiliary and then Bishop of Cheyenne in 1978. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph received allegations of sexual misconduct against Bishop Hart starting in the late 1980s, while Green Bay received allegations in 2002.
Law enforcement investigated the allegations against Hart on different occasions, with Cheyenne police recommending charges be brought in 2019, but prosecutors declined.
The current Bishop of Cheyenne, Stephen Biegler, expressed support for the alleged victims, saying: “I want the survivors to know that I support and believe you.” Bishop Biegler went on to say he understands “that this announcement will not bring closure to the survivors, their family members, Bishop Hart and all those affected.”
“I will continue to work and pray for their healing and for all involved in these painful and distressing matters,” Bishop Biegler said. “In the Diocese of Cheyenne, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the most vulnerable and to accompany those who have been harmed on a journey of healing.”
Another bishop involved in the decades-long saga of Bishop Hart and his alleged transgressions is David Ricken of Green Bay, who succeeded Bishop Hart in the see of Cheyenne and received allegations in 2002.
In 2018, a local Fox News affiliate asked Bishop Ricken whether he might have done more in 2002. “Well,” Fox quotes Ricken in reply, “I suppose reading back you could say that, but I did what I knew to do at the time with what I knew and that’s what I did.”
“It was with deep sadness that I recently learned that someone has brought allegations of sexual misconduct against my predecessor, Bishop Joseph Hart, for actions that supposedly happened 30 years ago in Kansas City,” Bishop Ricken wrote in a 2002 letter to the faithful of Cheyenne.
“Bishop Hart categorically denies that he acted in any way contrary to his promise of celibacy and moral and priestly conduct,” Bishop Ricken’s letter went on to say. “This matter has been previously investigated and addressed by officials at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Bishop Hart was exonerated.”
“I have discussed this matter with Bishop Hart, reviewed the information available to me, and have confidence that Bishop Hart is telling the truth,” Bishop Ricken also wrote.
Late last year, the Catholic Herald reported that Bishop Ricken had welcomed a troubled priest to his Diocese of Green Bay, who went on to engage in inappropriate relationships with adult women, at least one of which Green Bay investigated as abusive, finding the allegation credible.
Pope Francis granted a petition from the priest in question, then-Fr. Peter Mitchell, for voluntary laicization, before CDF tried him for his alleged crimes. That dispensation halted the canonical process against the priest.
NEW YORK — Following a decision by Wyoming prosecutors not to charge retired Bishop Joseph Hart for sexual abuse against minors, his alleged victims are looking to the Church’s canonical process as a last chance for the 88-year-old prelate to be brought to justice.
As first reported by the Kansas City Star on Tuesday, and confirmed by Crux on Wednesday, a Wyoming witness coordinator informed one of Hart’s accusers that the prosecutor would not advance the case, citing insufficient evidence. This comes nearly two years after the Diocese of Cheyenne deemed the allegations from the same individual to be credible in 2018.
In a statement on Thursday, Bishop Steven Biegler, the current bishop of Cheyenne, said he stands by the diocese’s determination and noted that Hart’s case is still under review in Rome.
“This decision not to pursue a criminal case does not mean that the victims are not credible,” he said. “Once again, I commend the victims who have spoken courageously about their abuse. I also stand behind the determination made by the Diocese of Cheyenne that allegations of sexual abuse against former Bishop Hart are credible.”
Hart, who served as bishop of Cheyenne from 1978-2001, has twice been investigated by the police over abuse related allegations. The first investigation took place in 2002 but following a two month investigation, a Natrona County prosecutor closed the investigation. A second investigation began in 2018, and in August 2019 the Cheyenne Police Department recommended to prosecutors that charges be made against the bishop.
“Wyoming is unique in that it does not have a statute of limitations, and therefore these crimes, which were committed in the 1970s and 1980s, can still be investigated and prosecuted,” a press release from the police department noted at the time.
Following those recommendations, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove recused herself from the case and forwarded it to Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen to serve as a special prosecutor on the case.
When Crux reached the alleged victim on Wednesday, he said he received a voicemail on Friday from the witness coordinator for Itzen. On Monday, the two connected and he was told that the prosecutor would not bring the case forward.
(It is the policy of Crux not to identify the victims of sexual abuse who do not want to be named.)
The victim told Crux that he found the news “mind-boggling,” citing a conversation with detectives two years ago who assured him that criminal charges would be brought against Hart and even being told that they have “more files on Hart than they possess for double homicide cases.”
Despite repeated requests, Itzen has declined to speak to the alleged victim to further explain his reasoning not to bring charges.
“The idea that you could drop the case without speaking to the person who was going to be in the witness stand is outrageous,” he said on Thursday.
He also said since he came forward, 6 other victims have come forward in Cheyenne with allegations against the retired bishop.
Prior to being named a bishop, Hart had served in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for the first two decades of his priesthood following ordination in 1956. Although his ecclesial career spanned over five decades, serving in two states where he was widely popular, he has been trailed by allegations of serial abuse — which he has consistently denied — dodging both civil and canonical adjudication for more than two decades.
Tom Jubin, a Cheyenne-based attorney for Hart, declined Crux’s request for comment on Thursday.
A 2019 Crux investigation chronicled accounts of alleged victims in both Missouri and Wyoming who charge that Hart regularly groomed and then abused young men dating back to his earliest days as a priest. As of 2019, the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had settled 10 cases of abuse against Hart.
Upon hearing the news from Cheyenne, Darrel Hunter, who believes he was one of Hart’s earliest victims, told Crux that he believed the decision not to prosecute stems from “a lack of political courage.”
Hunter, who resides in Kansas City, Missouri, is the son of Hart’s long-time secretary, Stella Hunter. Darrel has previously told Crux that he was the victim of misconduct by Hart at age 12, along with his two brothers, Kevin and Mike.
The Roman Catholic Church should not be in a control of its own safeguarding.
It has proven, time and time again, that it needs external, objective, monitoring.
38 replies on “FORMER CHEYENNE BISHOP SKATES EXONERATED ON ABUSE CHARGES.”
Cases of child sexual abuse are notoriously difficult to prove, to a level of proof required by law. So the actual headline here is the church having numerous complaints with a level of evidence proving to the church his crimes were happened, and still letting him off with a rebuke.
Nothing has changed, guys.
Nothing new here. It is the slight of hand and obfuscation we expect from the Catholic Church, using it’s own Canon Law in a very narrow and defined way to avoid having to confront the awful truth. I particularly like the bit about discounting some claims because under Canon Law the children / youth who were allegedly abused were not considered under the age of consent ! What’s that in the Vatican – 12, 13…?! However, let us not forget that the States where these offences were alleged to have taken place will not prosecute them because they fall outside the statute of limitations, that is they happened too long ago. So, the alleged victims in these cases are shafted both ways, by the Church and by the State. The only person to benefit here is the alleged perpetrator, the former bishop ! Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.
Sure canon law is another name for internal accountability. Titles wigs and gowns real or imagined are window dressing. Let the law of the land deal with criminal issues However this law may not be infallible and needs to evolve where necessary
Wigs and gowns are a symbol of dignity. They are essential, allowing the idiosyncrasies of personality to be dissolved away during proceedings. This is a very important point neglected by your correspondent, Flyonthwall
Correction@12:31: I agree absolutely. We must have wigs, gowns and other symbols before which to bow deferentially in acknowledgement of the wearer’s superior status.
Pointy hats and distinctive vestments; frilly dresses; dog collars…………more & more.
Bring it on!
12.31 Wigs were introduced to combat that devastating symptom of syphilis: hairloss. Some dignity!
12:31, your reference to “symbol of dignity” bring to mind two relevant thoughts:
1) The emperor’s invisible clothes. H. C. Anderson fable.
2) The King’s shirt. Tolstoy fable.
Perhaps the saying, “Empty vessels make most noise” sums up the underlying reality in those fables, while Matthew Ch 23 also has much to say about “dressing to impress.”
Can we have a day on Scotland?. Everyone seems bored today.
I think that is a jolly good idea, Eddie. Can you propose some available dates, please. Thank you.
1.29: Bring it on….high heels, handbags, litres, fancy stoles of rainbow colours.. frilly edged albs….I.e…Pat in Larne and some ultra conservative clerics!! Crazy, bizarre…another world..thank God I didn’t apostatise!
Anonymous. I have an idea for a universal audit of vestments. We need to route out the deviant. I will say more once I have an indication of interest in what, potentially, is a very important and fascinating subject.
@ 2.07 Thank you for trivialising what many will have found a good contribution. Are you incapable of making serious points?
Jesus was right when he said: Suffer the Little Children’ – they sure do suffer if they come into the orbit of clerical sexual predators of which there are thousands in in the Catholic Church and Canon Law is simply a device which protects and enables predators and discriminates against the victims!! – the Catholic priesthood is synonymous with child abuse – they have shall we say risen to the occasion!!
The present Bishop of the diocese has shown himself a true pastor to Hart’s victims.
Pat, things are dragging a bit and not much activity. You need another few juicy episodes about Armagh antics, or Silverstream stirrings, or Rawhide Richard’s rompings.
What nonsense. We have to proposal for a vestments audit, for discussion of the state of the Church in Scotland and for a consideration of aspects of advocates’ dress. I an sorry if that is insufficient for you.
The founder of Aid to the Church in Need has been accused of being an abuser
Who he ? Father Werenfried van Straaten . He must be dead by now ?
Pat Buckley had the courage to break the bonds of this evil institution, the Roman Catholic Church. But many of its priest-pimps remain with it, and they are complicit in its evil, these mooching parasites.
Very few ‘good’ priests 😅 around today on the blog; in fact, none at all.
What’s wrong you parasites? Is today’s blog just a little too dark for your already darkened souls?
No ya parasite we just can’t be bothered dealing with the dark side where you reside.You are just a little to dark for us altogether.
At 5:30pm – och diddums will no one play with you today?? 🤣
Yes, it is suspiciously quiet on the blog today. I wonder why ? Perhaps even the CathBots are somewhat ashamed of the Vatican’s judgement on this old bishop ? I didn’t think it was possible to embarrass them ! You know, usually it’s along the lines of whatever Rome and the Holy Father and Holy Mother the Church says, then that’s good enough for me. They need to start thinking for themselves. Loyalty to the Church can only go so far. Especially when huge bits of the Church are so rotten and sinful.
Anon at 6.24: It’s nonsensical, infantile comments like yours that turns people off this blog. Your comment is of trailer trash genre. Childish and ignorant. Do a refresher course in humanities – look up the dictionary for the meaning….
6.24: A repeat comnent from you yet again. What s sad, boring, miserable life you must have. Saddo and pathetic. Go join Magna in his slug cave or go join Pat in his Oratory and test your humanity.
Wwwhhhooooo ! That brought out the CathBots ! They get prodded a little, and out they come buzzing around with indignation. How dare anybody criticise us, they think. Well, I think I’ll keep it up, because it’s such fun seeing them get in to such a lather. Hello CathBots !!
6.24: Why waste our time engaging in nasty, predictable, hateful commentary? Catholics are too busy engaging in works of mercy and charity!! This blog is inhabited by plonkers like you…find useful activity to engage in that makes a difference to others. Fool….
Yes were all to busy doing the Corporal Works of Mercy to be bothered engaging with apostates,heretics and buckbots with the usual crap you rotten sinful ejits post.
Yes, it would suit you, and your kind, to have the spotlight of exposure turned off on the institution you serve, one ‘corrupt, and riddled with corruption’.
But that ain’t gonna happen, you Christ-betrayin’ pimps.😅
@7:31pm – go jump in a lake 😄
Drunken frequently recurring text alerts.
I see you’re still on the GARGLE still spouting the usual auld guff can I suggest in charity AA
Magna, don’t tar us all with that there brush. You may find some of us “pimps” share some of your concerns.
Hi dear friends
No point in having a Scotland day. Glasgow gone quiet, the Paisley sem incident has been and gone, the KOB scandal is over, the Motherwell Priest who has fathered a child is a non existent made up story and the rest of the Diocese are also now in good order. Jog on and and continue with the rest of your sad little lives taking about Ireland and making the lives of other human beings who have made mistakes as miserable as your own. Be proud of yourselves. Morons.
Pat are you ok? You haven’t posted many comments today. Including one of mine 😂
I see, Pat, that Mgr Peter O’Reilly, PP Enniskillen, has obtained planning permission to demolish the very large parochial house and replace it with an even bigger one. The new large en-suite master bedroom comes complete with a dressing room. There are two guest bedrooms, a walk-in larder, two reception rooms, a dining room, a huge kitchen and 2(!) oratories.
This is all for him. Across the road there are three vacant self-contained curates’ flats. He could move into one of them.
The whole farce is that the parochial house and the curates’ houses were fully and extensively refurbished and virtually rebuilt in the 1990s, following a big fundraising appeal. The good people of Enniskillen will just have to put their hands in their pockets yet again.
The hubris is shocking when you think of all the people who will lose their jobs because of the lockdowns.
But just as special and exceptional clothing is necessary to designate special status, so too should their dwellings be exceptional. It’s only right. It’s traditional you know, and Holy Mother Church feels obliged to follow tradition.
C’mon now you sheep: shuddup, coughup, and payup.
Baaa. Baaa. Baaa!
Like the people of Ennis. Massive refurbishment in the middle of a pandemic / recession. Oh if the walls could talk there….