Abuse Investigation of former Wyoming Bishop results in Restrictions in Ministry and Reports to Rome and Law Enforcement
By Tom Morton
July 02, 2018
|Bishop Steven Biegler. Courtesy, Diocese of Cheyenne|
[This article helpfully provides the text of a PDF press release of the Diocese of Cheyenne, and identifies the DA referenced in the release as Kevin Meenan.]
A former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, which covers the geographical area of Wyoming, allegedly abused two boys during his tenure, according to a statement from the Bishop Steven Biegler on Monday.
This is the statement verbatim from the diocesan website:
"Bishop Steven Biegler of the Diocese of Cheyenne said that he is continuing restrictions on Bishop-Emeritus Joseph Hart, due to a new investigation of allegations that he sexually abused two boys from Wyoming after he became Bishop of Cheyenne. Hart served as Bishop or Auxiliary Bishop of Cheyenne from 1976 to 2001. From 1956 to 1976, he was a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
"Beginning in 1989 and thereafter, several men alleged that Bishop Hart sexually abused them years earlier when he was a priest in Kansas City and they were boys. By 2002, a Wyoming man accused the bishop of sexually abusing him as a boy. The man said it occurred in a sacramental confession and on outings after Hart had become the bishop in Wyoming. Recently, a second Wyoming man alleged that Bishop Hart also abused him.
"In 2002, the District Attorney in Casper, Wyoming, issued a report concluding "that there was no evidence to support the allegations" originating in Wyoming. The Diocese of Cheyenne now questions that conclusion based upon a recently completed exhaustive investigation.
"As a result of civil claims against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, based on alleged sexual misconduct by Father Joseph Hart and other priests, there were financial settlements in 2008 and 2014. However, there were no trials and no determination of guilt or innocence. Bishop Hart has consistently denied all allegations that he sexually abused minors.
"Since this matter was not resolved, Biegler ordered a fresh, thorough investigation. In December 2017, he retained an outside investigator who obtained substantial new evidence and concluded that the District Attorney's 2002 investigation was flawed and that Bishop Hart sexually abused two boys in Wyoming. The Diocesan Review Board reviewed the investigative report and concurred with the investigator's assessment that the allegations are credible and substantiated.
"In March 2018, the Diocese reported the alleged abuse to the Cheyenne District Attorney as required by Diocesan policy, national Catholic Church policy, and Wyoming law. The Cheyenne Police Department then opened an investigation. The Diocese is cooperating with that investigation. In May 2018, Bishop Biegler sent the Initial Investigation (Investigatio Praevia) report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome.
"Previously, Bishop Paul Etienne restricted Bishop Hart from celebrating public liturgical services in the Diocese of Cheyenne. Bishop Steven Biegler learned of the allegations when he was ordained the Bishop of Cheyenne in June 2017. He continued the restrictions. The Congregation for Bishops in Rome has extended these same restrictions everywhere. After the recent investigation, Bishop Biegler decided that St.Joseph's Children's Home in Torrington should remove Hart's name from a building in the facility.
"Bishop Biegler concluded, 'I hope that our investigation will lead to a final determination by the CDF that these sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Hart are credible and require disciplinary action. Nothing is more important that the safety of our children. We have zero tolerance for sexual abuse of any kind. If there is ever any indication of abuse brought to our attention, it will be reported to the civil authorities and investigated thoroughly, even when the allegations involve a Bishop.'"
The District Attorney referred to in Bishop Biegler's press release was Kevin Meenan. In 2003, Meenan was indicted and later pleaded guilty to forgery and identity theft involving his stepchildren in 2003. Before he left office in 2010, former Gov. Dave Freudenthal pardoned him.