National News

Cheyenne Police Recommend Criminal Charges Against Retired Wyoming Bishop

Bishop Steven R. Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyo., at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. In 2018, he announced that his diocese had completed a new investigation into retired Bishop Joseph Hart, and found the allegations against Hart to be credible. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

NEW YORK — Cheyenne’s police department is recommending that charges be brought against two members of the Catholic clergy for abuse during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

While state law prevents the suspects from being, a press release on Wednesday said 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 subject of that 2002 investigation centered around Bishop Joseph Hart, who was bishop of Cheyenne from 1978 until his retirement in 2001.

Bishop Steven Biegler announced in 2018 that the diocese had completed a new investigation into Hart and found the allegations against him to be credible.

In June 2019, the Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis had greenlighted a penal process against Hart. Hart’s case has been under review at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) since 2010 when the case was first brought forward by then Bishop Paul Etienne, now the archbishop of Seattle.

At age 87, Hart, who has denied allegations in both Cheyenne and Kansas City, continues to live in Wyoming. The Kansas diocese where he served has previously admitted to at least ten cases of settlements with his victims.

A statement from the Cheyenne Police Department notes that affidavits of probable cause have been filed with the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office.

“Wyoming is unique in that it does not have a statute of limitations, and therefore these crimes, which were committed in the 1970’s and 1980’s, can still be investigated and prosecuted,” the press release notes.

In addition to the criminal charges, the outcome of Hart’s Vatican trial is still pending. Should he be found guilty, he could face removal from the clerical state.