Police in Wyoming recommend sex abuse charges against retired bishop

WASHINGTON  — Last August, a police department in Wyoming put out a public call looking for information regarding alleged sex abuse relating to Catholic clergy.

Though they didn’t name anyone in particular, it was no secret they were looking into allegations surrounding retired Bishop Joseph H. Hart, whom the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, had investigated and found “credible” allegations against.

Now authorities in Cheyenne are recommending sex abuse charges be brought against an unnamed clergy member, believed to be the retired 87-year-old bishop, as well as against a second unnamed “person seeking membership” in the Catholic clergy for accusations of abuse that may have occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, said an Aug. 14 news release by the Cheyenne Police Department.

“The investigation stems from a case initiated in 2002 that was reopened in 2018 when new information was produced and provided to the Cheyenne Police Department by an independent investigation conducted by the Wyoming Diocese of the Catholic Church,” the release said.

In 2002, a district attorney in Wyoming was looking into accusations that the retired prelate had abused two boys during his time as bishop in Cheyenne from 1976 until 2001; he was auxiliary bishop of the statewide diocese from 1976 to 1978, when he became head of the diocese. Ultimately, the district attorney said “there was no evidence to support the allegations.”

However, late last year, the Diocese of Cheyenne said the district attorney’s investigation was flawed, and its own investigation determined that allegations against Bishop Hart were found to be “credible.” In releasing the names of 11 accused clergy of his own diocese, Bishop Steven R. Biegler included the name of his predecessor. In June, the Vatican announced that the retired bishop was facing a Vatican trial for sex abuse allegations.

Because Wyoming does not have a statute of limitations, decades-long claims can still be investigated and prosecuted.

Addressing the Catholics of his diocese after he published the list on substantiated claims in June, Bishop Biegler said that clergy are expected to be shepherds “who guard and protect the flock, especially the least among us. They are called to imitate the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep. Therefore, sexual abuse by clergy is an appalling sin and a reprehensible crime.”