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  Wyoming Bishop, Missouri Priests Named in Abuse Suit

By Dennis Coday
National Catholic Reporter
February 6, 2004

Joseph Hart, retired bishop of Cheyenne, Wyo., has been accused of molesting minors here during a three-decade period. The allegations are made in a lawsuit filed in Kansas City Jan. 21. The suit also implicates Fr. Thomas J. O'Brien, 77, and Thomas M. Reardon, 62, who left the priesthood in 1982.

Nine men made a series of accusations against each of the priests for alleged abuses that occurred from the 1960s through the 1980s, at a time when the priests served together in local parishes. Some of the abuse allegedly took place at a lake home or church facilities, often after liquor was given to the victims.

Also named as defendants were the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese and its current leaders, Bishop Raymond Boland and Vicar General Patrick Rush. The suit says the diocese failed to monitor its priests.

Three of the nine plaintiffs in the suit are named; six are anonymous. Among the plaintiffs is Michael Hunter, leader of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Though not a victim himself, Hunter said he had suffered emotionally from abuse that he said Hart inflicted on his brother, Kevin Hunter, who died in 1989.

The two other named plaintiffs are Ronald Garrens and Jack Stuckenschneider. Both accused Reardon of abuses, and Garrens also accused O'Brien. In all, Reardon is accused specifically by six plaintiffs, O'Brien by five and Hart by three.

Rush told NCR that the diocese had investigated complaints against all three of the men. The information of those investigations had been made public and was included in its report to the U.S. bishops' conference, he said.

Rush denied that the diocese had covered up any allegations. "We deny that categorically. The diocese at no time covered anything up," he said. The diocese complied with state requirements for reporting abuse of minors, Rush said.

Hart, 72, is accused of sexual improprieties at parishes in Kansas City and of providing alcohol to minors. The lawsuit said Hart took Kevin Hunter on an extended trip to the western United States, during which they had sex, and that after Hart became bishop of Cheyenne in 1978, he brought young boys from Wyoming back to Kansas City and engaged in inappropriate sexual activity.

Hart, who retired in 2001, has denied the allegations. He also had denied earlier abuse allegations reported in The Kansas City Star in April 2002. The report revealed that the diocese had spent thousands of dollars on two families in the 1990s for counseling and a new pickup truck after they accused Hart of sexual abuse.

Accusations against O'Brien, 77, came to light in April 2002. He retired as chaplain of St. Joseph Health Center about the time the diocese revealed that five persons had alleged past sexual abuses. O'Brien denied the abuses. Rebecca Randles, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the five men who accused O'Brien of abuse in the recent lawsuit were not the same five who accused him in 2002.

Rush told The Kansas City Star that two persons accused Reardon of sexual abuse in the 1980s. One complaint came while he was an active priest; the other later.

The lawsuit said the priests sometimes conspired to lure the boys into sexual situations.

"We have a cabal of priests who together and separately engaged in sexual abuse and molestation of children for in excess of 30 years," Randles said at a news conference outside the chancery Jan. 21. "We needed to include all of these plaintiffs so you could see the extent and duration of abuse these poor children suffered."

 
 

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