Although a diocesan review board determined that at least six child sex abuse allegations against former Bishop Joseph H. Hart were credible, the Vatican has, once again, put its concern for its own reputation ahead of concern for the survivors the disgraced former bishop harmed. On Monday, January 25, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith overturned the review board’s decision, clearing Bishop Hart of seven allegations of abuse, and ruling that five other allegations couldn’t be verified “with moral certitude.” Furthermore, the Vatican dismissed two additional cases that involved Bishop Hart’s alleged sexual abuse of 16- and 17-year-old boys because the Church did not recognize the boys as minors at the time of the alleged abuse.
Here, the Vatican has done more than look the other way on sexual abuse by one of its own, it has looked directly into a mounting stack of allegations, six of them deemed credible by Diocesan officials and disregarded them outright. Their action here is further proof of the hypocrisy peeking out from behind the Church’s long-maintained curtain of secrecy and concealment. Instead of making a decision based on the values publicly and repeatedly espoused by the Pope and other Church leaders—integrity, transparency, repentance and compassion—the Vatican has again chosen self-preservation when asked to put those words into action.
From 1956 – 1976, Bishop Hart worked as a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. From 1978 – 2001, Hart served as Bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne in Wyoming. As of 2019, Bishop Hart has been accused of sexually abusing at least 18 minors; twelve from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and six from the Diocese of Cheyenne. The Judicial Vicar and Diocesan Review Board, consisting of the Vicar General, three men and three women, one of whom is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Cheyenne, determined some of the allegations against Hart were credible after conducting their own investigations. The professional backgrounds of the members of the Diocesan Review Board include law enforcement; school administration; a doctor of Psychology; a pediatrician; a psychotherapist who treats sexually abused children; and a judge, who was a criminal prosecutor involving crimes against children. The Vatican’s decision to ignore the dioceses’ own investigations and determinations are a ruthless and hurtful dismissal of the survivors who suffered at the hands of Bishop Hart, and to survivors around the world.
The decision by the Vatican to clear Bishop Hart is a prime example of the intentional and calculated maneuvers the Church continues to make to follow a path of deceit and false promises. Survivors must be believed, and accusations must be investigated by law enforcement. However, the Vatican continues to self-police and find any way possible to push credible allegations of sexual abuse under the rug. We hope that one day the Church will take all survivors’ claims seriously and create an authentic culture of safety, accountability and intolerance of sexual abuse.