Diocese continues to compile list of accused clergy

By Seth Klamann

Casper Star-Tribune

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER (WNE) — Catholic leaders in Wyoming continue to compile a full list of credibly accused clergymen stretching back to 1950, more than five months after the work began and three months after the diocese announced the effort to its parishioners. 

The internal investigation was announced in early December, three months after the Star-Tribune first inquired about the records and the vicar general of the Diocese of Cheyenne said the work would begin. Since that September request, the diocese has repeatedly told the newspaper that its records inquiry was underway and that no timeline existed for the completion of the work. 

Diocese vicar general Rev. Carl Gallinger and Bishop Steve Biegler reiterated that position last week in answer to questions sent by the newspaper. The list will include all living or dead clergymen who faced credible accusations going to back to 1950, the officials said. 

Gallinger told the Star-Tribune previously that the diocese’s “commitment” to the review predated September, though the work had not begun until the Star-Tribune requested the records that same month.

Biegler said the church had posted signage in every Catholic church in the state, encouraging victims to come forward. 

“We have no other way of finding victims,” he wrote. 

He said that no other victims have been identified by the diocese since an August announcement that a third alleged victim of former Bishop Joseph Hart was identified by the church. He noted, though, that he did not have access to any information law enforcement may have. 

Through an attorney, Hart has denied any wrongdoing. 

The scrutiny and work by the diocese here arose after church officials in Cheyenne announced that sexual misconduct allegations against Hart were credible and that 2002 investigations by Cheyenne Police and the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office were flawed. Both agencies recommended the case be closed, citing a lack of evidence, according to documents obtained by the Star-Tribune.

But Gallinger has said that the presence of the 2002 victim who sparked that investigation provided enough evidence to indicate the claims were credible. 

Biegler said that no other law enforcement agencies in the state have been contacted as a part of the diocese’s investigation. 

Similar allegations have dogged Hart since his time in Kansas City, Missouri, where he spent 20 years as a priest and where that diocese later settled at least six lawsuits related to him, after he had left for and retired from the clergy in Wyoming. The former bishop has repeatedly denied such allegations and reiterated that position via his attorney in July and August. 

Accusations related to Hart include that he abused at least one Wyoming child on trips to and from Wyoming. A brother of an alleged victim from Kansas City said his sibling was abused by Hart on trips all over the West, the Kansas City Star reported last year. The 2002 investigative report from Cheyenne noted that Hart traveled with boys to and from Kansas City, although the report noted no allegations of abuse during those trips. 

Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who handled the lawsuits against Hart and other members of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said the abusive trips happened between 1972 and 1976, before and after Hart was transferred from Kansas City and Wyoming. Randles said Thursday that the Wyoming victim who came forward in 2002 was one of six alleged victims of Hart who were part of a settlement against the priest and other members of the clergy in Kansas City. She also said that victim was abused by Hart on trips to and from Kansas City. 

Hart’s attorney, Tom Jubin, specifically denied the allegations that Hart had abused boys on trips to and from Wyoming or any other destination. He referred to Randles as someone in the business of suing the church. 

Randles’ lawsuits contended that Hart’s actions were known by his Kansas City superiors. But she said his transfer to Cheyenne was not a demotion or an effort to hide his activities. Indeed, he was elevated to auxiliary and then full bishop there. 

Randles previously told the Star-Tribune that there were more victims of Hart than those who filed lawsuits in Kansas City. Again, Jubin and Hart have denied any and all allegations. 

In his email to the Star-Tribune, Biegler confirmed that Hart’s name has been removed from the St. Joseph Children’s Home in Torrington. The diocese previously committed to striking the former bishop’s name from the building. 

Hart also faces church repercussions. He has been barred from publicly participating in Mass, and the diocese’s investigations into him — one that ended last summer and another report drafted after the third victim came forward in August — have been forwarded to Rome. 

Officer Kevin Malatesta said last week that Cheyenne Police, which opened a criminal investigation into Hart’s alleged abuse over the summer and took the rare step of discussing it publicly, are still investigating the allegations and that Malatesta expects that work to be wrapping up soon. 

He declined to provide a timeline — as did the diocese for its review — and generally declined to comment further, citing the active status of the investigation. 

“I can say that we are thoroughly investigating every claim that is brought to us and that since we asked for information from any additional victims or witnesses last year, we have been able to gather information from more than the people involved in the initial 2002 case,” Malatesta wrote in an email. “Each time someone calls with information in regards to this case we are thoroughly checking the information they provide and adding that to our case.” 

He added that the diocese has supported the investigation and that police are working to consolidate any other complaints under one investigation for the sake of any recommendations made to the district attorney’s office. 

The diocese’s work continues as church organizations across the country embark on similar reviews. Colorado’s three dioceses announced late last month that they will launch an independent review, as have dioceses in several other states. In the fall, the Jesuit order released several lists of credibly accused priests, including a pair of men who worked in Wyoming. Officials said neither man faced allegations here. 

As for the Cheyenne diocese’s list, it’s unclear how much detail it will contain. The Star-Tribune requested the names of all credibly accused clergy and any settlements paid out by the diocese related to such allegations. 

According to information provided to the Catholic flock in Wyoming, the diocese here contributed $500,000 to settlements against Rev. Charles Gormly, who was ordained in Wyoming and transferred to Minnesota, where he abused several young girls. An additional $87,000 in legal fees were incurred during the Gormly proceedings, plus $110,495 racked up during the Hart investigation, Gallinger previously told the Star-Tribune. 

Biegler said in his response to Star-Tribune questions last week that no other settlements or agreements have been reached with potential victims since his previous announcement months ago. In his statement to the diocese’s congregation late last year, Biegler said the diocese would be establishing a fund to help pay for therapy of Wyoming abuse victims. 

The amount of time the diocese’s review has taken drew criticism from David Clohessy, a former executive of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. 

“Church officials often drag out their so-called ‘investigations’ for years, then suddenly release their results late on a Friday before a three-day weekend or over a busy holiday so they attract less attention,” Clohessy wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune. “This delay is irresponsible and hurtful. Hart is still alive and mobile and presumably the charming and charismatic man he’s always been, and able to win the trust of devout parents and get access to their kids. There’s no reason for delay here.” 

Clohessy had previously praised the diocese’s decision to compile the list and called it a positive step that required full transparency. In December, Gallinger said church officials were still discussing how much information to release in the report. 

The Diocese of Cheyenne’s commitment to releasing a list comes amid a new wave of scrutiny by Catholic organizations across the United States. Dioceses in multiple states have released or are crafting similar lists, sparked by a sweeping and damning report in Pennsylvania that found hundreds of priests had abused as many as 1,000 boys over a period of years. 

Indeed, just last week, a high-ranking Vatican official was imprisoned for his alleged abuse of boys in Australia. 

In Wyoming, Hart is not the only priest who’s faced substantial allegations of abuse in recent years. In a 2005 lawsuit, Rev. Anthony Jablonowski was accused of sexually abusing boys in the mid-1980s in bizarre rituals in the church’s basement. He was convicted and served time in prison. In 2008, Rev. John Murray pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child that allegedly stretched over a year in Casper. He allegedly told his victim that he been transferred to Casper after abuse allegations elsewhere.