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Bishop Hart And The Boys

A Catholic reader points me to a three-part series in the Catholic online magazine Crux, written by Christopher White, looking at allegations of abuse committed by Joseph Hart, 88, the retired bishop of Cheyenne. Hart, who served as the state of Wyoming’s lone bishop from 1978-2001, faces possible criminal charges over the allegations. In this excerpt from Part One, we learn that Bishop Hart had a habit of partying with Monsignor Thomas O’Brien and Father Thomas Reardon, two clerics who turned out to be notorious abusers:

Seventy-five miles north of Guardian Angels parish, O’Brien’s home on Lake Viking was a revolving door of high school boys, many of whom worked around the parishes and were recruited for what was described as “vocational discernment” weekends. Once there, they were greeted with a buffet of vices, including free-flowing alcohol, marijuana, and pornography.

“What happened at that lake house makes Ted McCarrick look like a saint,” said one priest familiar with the litany of abuse allegations that took place at Lake Viking – a reference to the high-profile former archbishop of Washington who was found guilty of abuse and after a Vatican investigation, removed from the priesthood.

Pat Lamb, who worked during middle school as a groundskeeper at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary where O’Brien served from 1981 – 1983, recalls being taken to Lake Viking weekly, where upon arriving at the house he’d be offered a whiskey and coke – the first of many he would consume in the company of O’Brien, Reardon, and Hart.

On one occasion, after mowing the grass, he claims he headed upstairs to the guestroom to shower and nap – only to wake up to find O’Brien undoing his pants and fondling him.

One former altar boy, also from Nativity parish, who requested anonymity, recalls being forced to rub O’Brien down with sun lotion while he was completely naked.

“We were too afraid to tell anyone else because it was just embarrassing for us,” Lamb told Crux. “I mean, these were well-known priests. Who was going to believe us? But we did try to warn the other boys not to go to Lake Viking.”

“When news finally came out about these guys, my parents said ‘can you believe this?’ I was just relieved to finally be able to say, ‘yes, I can.’”

Part Two is published today. It tells the story of how Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, who was installed in 2017, did the right and courageous thing by re-opening the Hart case, and seeking justice for Hart’s victims. Today’s piece talks about how Biegler reached out to “Martin,” a Wyoming man now living in NYC, who had been sexually abused by Bishop Hart in confession as an adolescent. The dirtbag Hart preyed on the family after the boy’s father abandoned them.

This part of today’s piece jumped out at me:

Martin’s sister recalled to Crux attending multiple social events and being shamed by one-time friends for disparaging the reputation of a man they believed to be a devoted bishop and priest.

Charlie Hardy, a former priest of the diocese and well-known local politician, told Crux that he was stunned when he heard the initial allegations, as was everyone else, because at the time it just wasn’t natural to believe such things could be true.

… Meanwhile, at the Knights of Columbus hall in Cheyenne, a portrait of Hart still hangs, and the retired bishop continues to be a regular at their events.

And there are people who still wonder why abuse victims don’t reveal what happened to them for years and years.

Part Three will be published tomorrow. Hart denies the allegations, and his lawyer accuses the Diocese of Cheyenne of running a smear campaign against him. If you don’t follow the links to read the whole story, you should be aware that the diocese’s own investigation, the one that Bishop Biegler ordered, found credible reasons to believe that Hart was an abuser during his tenure as Cheyenne bishop. Hart was a priest in Kansas City before being moved to Cheyenne. He has a long string of abuse allegations against him from KC too.

From a 2003 comment at the Catholic World Report blog, by “Diogenes”:

Jason Berry relates one woman’s glimpse of priests in the making at the Diocese of San Diego’s St. Francis Seminary [Lead Us Not Into Temptation, p. 246]:

Mary Jones’s first inkling that something was amiss came in autumn, 1980. She left a check for her son Bob at the seminary, and looked in the piano room. “Cushions were on the floor. Guys were in togas, with wine goblets, not all wearing underwear … I started crying. A priest came over and said gently, “This is not a time when parents are welcome.” …

Why did she let Bob continue in the seminary? “I wanted to preserve our relationship at all costs. It’s like those cults. Once you lose communication, you lose it all. When Bob told me he thought he was gay I went to his spiritual director, and I practically tore his apartment up.” Crying, she said: “It’s not that he’s gay — it’s whether he became gay because of the seminary. I was the best mother I could be! I educated him in Catholic schools.”Poor woman. Without graduate training in spirituality she can’t hope to understand all that’s involved in formation-for-ministry these days. Her son’s 1980 seminary classmates, of course, are by now pastors, vicars, monsignori — and soon will be seminary rectors and bishops themselves.

Remember the massive, root-and-branch, scorched-earth clean-up of West Coast seminaries that took place after the sex abuse scandals broke? Neither do I.

That was written in 2003, recall.

UPDATE: I removed the last link. In an otherwise interesting piece, the author made a false accusation against me. I address it in the comments section below, but as not everybody who will follow the link will read the comments section here, I just took it down. What he said about me was not the point of the article.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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