A Catholic bishop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has criticized a Vatican ruling that cleared one of his predecessors of allegations of sexual abuse.
“I want the survivors to know that I support and believe you,” Bishop Steven Biegler said in a press release on Monday, Jan. 25, after the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) did not find former Bishop Joseph Hart guilty of sexually abusing minors.
The Diocese of Cheyenne previously conducted its own investigation into the allegations against Hart, finding them credible.
Hart served as a parish priest from 1956 to 1976 in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, before becoming an auxiliary and then full bishop in Cheyenne. He served as bishop in the Diocese of Cheyenne from 1978 until he retired in 2001, according to the Kansas City Star.
Hart was first accused of sexual abuse in 1989. That allegation was deemed credible in 2018 by Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop James Johnston despite being ruled unsubstantiated at the time by Church officials, the Star reported.
The Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming released details today on the decision regarding allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by Bishop Joseph Hart. Read Bishop Johnston’s statement and the official press release from the Diocese of Cheyenne on our website.https://t.co/PVV54vn0QN
— Diocese KCSJ (@DioceseKCSJ) January 25, 2021
The CDF emphasized that while it could not prove the sexual abuse charges against Hart, the retired bishop’s behavior demonstrated a “flagrant lack of prudence… for being alone with minors.”
Restrictions placed on Hart by Pope Francis in 2018 still prohibit him “from ‘any contact with minors, youth, seminarians and vulnerable adults’ and from ‘presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of the Liturgy.'” (RELATED: Pope Francis Vows To Rid The Catholic Church Of Sexual Abuse Following Vatican Report Examining Decades-Long Scandal)
The Catholic Church has continued to grapple with allegations that it systematically covered up sexual abuse committed by priests. In one of the highest profile cases, Pope Francis defrocked former Cardinal and Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick became the first cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church to be laicized for sexual abuse, according to the New York Times.