Former Wyoming Bishop Faces Another Sex Abuse Suit
CHEYENNE (AP) - Former Wyoming Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Hart is facing new allegations that he molested children in the 1970's.
A Missouri man filed a civil lawsuit Thursday alleging that Hart sexually abused him as a minor when Hart was a priest in Kansas City, Mo.
The charge is the sixth sexual abuse lawsuit filed against Hart, who owns property in Wyoming and Missouri, according to the complaint.
The previous five lawsuits were settled in 2008 as part of a $10 million agreement that involved 47 plaintiffs who sued 12 clergy members, including Hart.
Hart served as the bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, which represents all of Wyoming, for more than two decades. He was a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph from the 1950s until he came here in 1976.
He retired in 2001 from his position at the Diocese of Cheyenne.
The 38-page complaint, filed with the Circuit Court of Jackson County in Missouri, makes accusations of sexual molestation, harassment and negligence against Hart. It also claims Hart committed fraud by attempting to cover up his actions.
The incidents allegedly took place between 1975 and 1976 at St. Regis Church in Kansas City, Mo. The plaintiff was a parishioner at the church during that time period.
Neither Hart nor his legal representation could be reached for comment Thursday.
In response to the past allegations, Hart has maintained he did nothing wrong.
The lawsuit also lists Thomas J. O'Brien, who was a clergy member in Kansas City, and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as co-defendants.
O'Brien was a priest at St. Regis Church in Kansas City, Mo., during the alleged abuse, according to the court documents. The complaint alleges O'Brien also sexually molested the plaintiff.
In the wake of the 2008 settlement, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, lobbied for Paul D. Etienne, the current bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, to release Hart's personnel files and to take a stand on the issue.
SNAP Director David Clohessy said Thursday that the latest allegation shows there is further need for the Roman Catholic Church to repudiate Hart.
"What should matter are the promises made by every U.S. bishop to suspend credibly accused child molesting clerics and be open about child sex abuse cases," Clohessy said. "Instead, Etienne continues to be secretive about these charges and do virtually nothing to keep kids away from Hart."
Carol DeLois, chancellor at the Diocese of Cheyenne, said they received word of the new allegations Thursday afternoon. She said the diocese will cooperate with any investigation.
She added the diocese is praying for both the plaintiff and Hart.
"The diocese always stands committed to the protection of children," she said, "and we would always cooperate with a legal investigation."