Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 26, 2021 / 08:15 am
The Vatican’s doctrinal congregation has exonerated retired Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne over numerous accusations of the sexual abuse of minors, but issued a canonical rebuke.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said that the bishop had acted irresponsibly as a priest and upheld restrictions placed on him in 2018.
In January 2018, the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, began an investigation into claims of abuse by Hart, its retired bishop. Hart, who is now 89 years old, led the diocese from 1978 until his 70th birthday in 2001.
The diocese said that its investigative team “were convinced that we had sufficient evidence to conclude with moral certainty that the six accusations against Bishop Hart are credible” and passed the case to Rome for a final decision in the canonical process.
The diocese announced on Jan. 25 that the CDF had concluded that Hart was “exonerated of seven accusations, and five other accusations could not be proven with moral certitude.”
In a statement, Cheyenne diocese said: “Therefore, based on the assessment of the bishop delegate, Bishop Hart’s guilt was not proven with moral certitude, which is held to be equivalent to ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ the legal standard of proof required to impose a criminal conviction. These findings do not equate to innocence; rather, a high burden of proof has not been met.”
Hart was accused of sexually abusing children in the mid-1970s, and he received many accusations against him in 1989, 1992, 2002, and 2004. In 2008, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where he was ordained a priest before his consecration as an auxiliary bishop in 1976, paid a settlement to 47 victims of clerical sexual abuse, some of whom alleged that they were abused by Hart.
Hart was additionally accused of solicitation in confession.