January 26, 2021
By Nicole Winfield
The Vatican has cleared a retired U.S. bishop of multiple allegations he sexually abused minors and teenagers, rejecting lay experts’ determination that a half-dozen claims were credible and instead slapping him on the wrist for what it called “flagrant” imprudent behavior.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith exonerated retired Cheyenne, Wyoming Bishop Joseph Hart of seven accusations abuse and determined that five others couldn’t be proven “with moral certitude.” Two other cases involving boys, who were 16 and 17, couldn’t be prosecuted given the Catholic Church didn’t consider them minors at the time of the alleged abuse, the diocese reported Monday. A 13th allegation wasn’t addressed in the decree.
Hart, 89, had long maintained his innocence and denied all allegations of misconduct.
The Vatican decision clearly disappointed Hart’s successor, Bishop Steven Biegler, who stressed that the Vatican’s findings didn’t mean Hart was innocent, just that the Holy See determined that the high burden of proof hadn’t been met.
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