New Allegations Surface against Retired Bishop
By Scott Canon
Kansas City Star
May 15, 2002
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Police are investigating allegations that a retired Roman Catholic bishop - accused of sexual abuse twice while a priest in Kansas City - committed similar acts in Wyoming.
Laramie County District Attorney Jon Forwood confirmed Tuesday that he has referred the latest accusations against retired Bishop Joseph Hart to local law enforcement authorities.
The man who made the complaint this month to authorities told The Kansas City Star that he was coerced as a 14-year-old into repeatedly exposing himself in front of Hart in 1977, while Hart was auxiliary bishop in Wyoming.
Hart referred questions to his attorney, who issued a news release Tuesday stating that Hart welcomed the investigation because he wants to "put an end to these false allegations.
"I state clearly, without any equivocation, that I have never engaged in any improper sexual behavior involving minors in my more than 46 years as a priest," Hart said in the statement.
In an interview, Hart's attorney, Jack Speight, said that "it's a horrific, outrageous accusation by an unnamed victim. In our due process system, you need to know who's accusing you. Sooner or later we'll know who the alleged victim is, and more detail on the circumstances and we may have some additional comment at that time."
Lt. Jeff Schulz of the Cheyenne Police Department said he has talked briefly with the 38-year-old man making the allegations, who asked not to be identified because he feared publicity could jeopardize his employment. Schulz said he also has contacted the diocese in Cheyenne and gained a pledge of cooperation from the accused priest.
Both Schulz and the district attorney, however, stressed that the investigation is only in its preliminary stages.
"It comes down to, really, a matter of credibility," Forwood said.
In Wyoming, there is no statute of limitations.
If true, the alleged acts would likely be illegal under Wyoming law, which imposes up to 10 years in prison for "taking immodest, immoral or indecent liberties with a child," said Kevin Meenan, a district attorney in Casper, Wyo., and president of the National District Attorneys Association.
Schulz said he is awaiting a letter from the alleged victim detailing his recollections and an account from his therapist establishing that he made the claims before recent publicity linking Hart to accusations of sexually abusing boys.
Earlier abuse allegations against Hart became public April 24, when the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese issued a statement after inquiries by The Star.
The diocese said then that in 1989 and 1992, Hart was accused of sexually abusing two boys in the 1970s and late 1960s, but that church officials deemed the charges not credible. The diocese helped one alleged victim buy a pickup truck and paid for his counseling. It also paid counseling bills for two sisters of another alleged victim, who had died by the time the allegation was reported to the diocese.
Hart denied those Kansas City allegations privately when first confronted, and issued a public denial when they arose again last month.
The man making the latest allegations told The Star that he decided to contact Wyoming authorities to lend credibility to other claims leveled against Hart.
"I'm just a little angry that he can issue this sanctimonious denial," the man said. "I'm not saying I was raped or anything like that ... I just remember that my childhood was pretty difficult and it was made worse by his treatment of me ... "
Hart was a parish priest in Kansas City from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Cheyenne diocese in 1976 and became head of that diocese in 1978. He retired in September.
Hart's latest accuser, now living on the East Coast, said he regularly saw the priest because the church did much to support his family after his father abandoned them. His mother got a job through the church and the man, then 14, earned money from Hart performing chores.
He concedes, however, his memory is fuzzy and that he had largely blacked out the alleged abuse - until a man made a sexual overture to him when he was about 30 years old.
Now he said he recalls being at Hart's residence and that he would coax him into uncomfortable situations.
"It was a very voyeuristic thing," the man said. "Somehow when I was with the bishop, I always had to get naked ... I had to show him what I did when I had my impure thoughts."
He alleges that Hart would insist that, as part of confession, he touch his genitals while the priest watched. Once when he resisted, the man claims, Hart reminded him "your father left and we gave your mother a job."
The man said he also has memories of being taken on out-of-town trips, including once to Kansas City. He alleged he typically shared a bed with Hart on those journeys and has unpleasant recollections of being told to change into a swimsuit in front of Hart.
"Because of that, I haven't owned a bathing suit in 25 years," the man said. "I just have this sense of dread about them."
A social worker, Linda Ford Blaikie, said the man began seeing her for therapy after a traumatic, nonsexual assault. Blaikie said he made the claims of abuse by a member of the clergy at least five years ago.
Blaikie said that fewer than one in 10 of her clients talks of childhood sexual abuse, and she often is skeptical of such accounts. But she thinks the man's account is credible because his recollection is of being told to expose himself - milder than most perceptions of child abuse.
"If (the man was) going to make that up, it would either be less specific ... or something more dramatic," she said.
The man said he has spoken to an associate of St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who has become a leading lawyer mounting civil cases against the church for child sexual abuse.
- The Star's Matt Stearns and Judy L. Thomas contributed to this report.
- To reach Scott Canon, national correspondent, call (816) 234-4754 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. NEWS RELEASE ISSUED BY ATTORNEYS FOR BISHOP JOSEPH HART
CHEYENNE - The Most Rev. Joseph Hart, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, said he welcomes and is fully cooperating with a Cheyenne Police Department investigation into an allegation of abuse in Wyoming that occurred more than 25 years ago.
"I welcome this investigation, because I want to put an end to these false allegations," Bishop Hart said. "I have been devastated to have been falsely accused in the media, without evidence, of horrible acts, and I fully expect a thorough, unbiased and professional investigation to clear me of any wrong-doing."
"I state clearly, without any equivocation, that I have never engaged in any improper sexual behavior involving minors in my more than 46 years as a priest."
Bishop Hart said he was unaware of the accusation until about two weeks ago, even though the alleged act purportedly occurred more than two decades ago. Bishop Hart said he has still not been told who his accuser is or what the specific allegation entails.
Bishop Hart said it appears that a relative of the alleged Wyoming victim first contacted a Missouri newspaper, the Kansas City Star, before contacting the Cheyenne Police Department with the allegations.
The Star last month also published accusations against Bishop Hart that involved two alleged acts that occurred more than three decades ago. One case involved an alleged victim who died 13 years ago. In the other case, the man dropped his complaint after the Diocese of Kansas City, over Bishop Hart's formal written protest, helped the man purchase an automobile.
Even though both of these incidents allegedly occurred 30 years ago, Bishop Hart was not made aware of these allegations until about 10 years ago. At that time, Bishop Hart also cooperated fully with a diocesan investigation and voluntarily underwent a psychiatric evaluation that concluded he posed no threat to anyone.
"It is not a coincidence that these false allegations are surfacing now while the Catholic Church is under attack," Bishop Hart said. "Groups hostile to the Church and their sympathizers seem sadly anxious to take advantage of this climate to go on a 'witch hunt' in search of alleged victims. This not only leads to character assassination, but it also diminishes the real pain of those who have been truly victimized.
"We know false allegations have been made, such as those against Chicago's Cardinal Bernardin a decade ago and Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles this year. Unfortunately, the accusations are front-page news, while the finding of innocence gets a tiny headline buried deep inside the newspaper."
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