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Former Bishop Joseph Hart.

Wyoming sexual abuse allegations have Missouri connection

Sexual abuse allegations within the Catholic Church of Wyoming have a Kansas City connection. The Diocese of Cheyenne says it has substantiated three more allegations of sexual abuse against former Bishop Joseph Hart, bringing the number of alleged Wyoming victims of Hart who’ve had their allegations deemed credible to six.

The abuse allegedly occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, after Hart came to the Wyoming diocese from a 20-year posting in Kansas City, Missouri. Two of the victims are Missouri residents who were allegedly abused on trips to Wyoming, according to a spokesman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

One of those victims was abused in Cheyenne, spokesman Jack Smith stated this week, while the other may have been abused in Casper. Both victims were Missouri residents traveling with Hart at the time of the alleged abuse, and both made reports to the Kansas City diocese in the past year.

The Rev. Carl Gallinger, the vicar general of the Cheyenne diocese, requested questions about the new allegations be sent to him via email. He had not responded to those questions as of 11 a.m.

Smith said the victim who may have been abused in Casper was taken on a trip with Hart that included stops in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

According to a press release from the Cheyenne diocese announcing the findings, Hart declined to be interviewed as part of the investigation into the three new allegations. The former bishop has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The reports of sexual abuse by Hart involving juveniles on trips to Wyoming match previous allegations against the former bishop. Rebecca Randles, an attorney in Kansas City who’s represented several of Hart’s alleged victims in court, previously told the Star-Tribune that Hart would take Missouri boys on trips and abuse them. He and other Kansas City priests also had been accused of abusing boys on trips to a northern Missouri lake house.

Hart’s attorney, Tom Jubin, did not return a request for comment sent Wednesday. He has not returned repeated attempts to contact him over the past month. He previously denied that Hart had abused anyone, including on trips.

A Cheyenne Star-Tribune reporter spoke to Hart briefly at his home last month. The former bishop, who lives in a diocese-owned house, declined to comment.

The announcement that the Cheyenne diocese has investigated and deemed credible three more allegations comes a little more than a year after current Bishop Steven Biegler announced that he had reopened an investigation into Hart and that the church had determined Hart had abused two Wyoming boys decades ago. A month later, in August 2018, the diocese announced it had substantiated another allegation.

It’s unclear if the Cheyenne diocese is currently investigating any other reports against Hart. Smith, the spokesman for the church in Kansas City, said his diocese had not received any new allegations against Hart in the past month. He said the Kansas City church’s independent review board will meet later this month to determine if the four allegations they’ve received against Hart in the past year — including the two that Cheyenne just deemed credible — were substantiated.

Biegler says the diocese has no plans to remove Hart from his diocese-owned home in Cheyenne because no determination had been made by the district attorney’s office. Cheyenne police in August announced that they were forwarding charging recommendations to the Laramie County district attorney related to two men who allegedly abused boys in the 1970s and 1980s. Police and authorities have declined to name the two men, citing state statute.

SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, called on the diocese late last month to remove Hart from the home and to send him to a friary in rural Kansas, where disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick lives. McCarrick was removed from the priesthood last year over reports of sexual misconduct.

The new sexual abuse allegations against Hart are the latest in a string of accusations that go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the family of a Missouri man — Kevin Hunter — alleged Hart abused him on trips around the West. Hunter died in 1989.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has settled with at least 10 men, including Hunter’s brother, who’ve accused Hart of sexual misconduct. Randles previously told the Star-Tribune there are even more victims of Hart’s in Kansas City who have yet to come forward.

It’s unclear if the Cheyenne diocese has reached financial settlements with any victims of Hart. Biegler told the Star-Tribune that he “cannot comment” on any lawsuits “that may or may not have been made in the past that are subject to confidential agreement.”

Hart has consistently denied wrongdoing.

While criminal action may be coming in Wyoming, Hart is also facing adjudication through the Vatican. It’s unclear where he is in that process, as Vatican officials have not returned messages from the Star-Tribune and have told other outlets they won’t comment. But Hart is set to face a trial that could see him removed from the priesthood. Hart’s ability to publicly celebrate Mass has been restricted since 2015.

–From ABCFox Montana and wire services