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Sex Allegations Surface For Former KC Priest

Apr 25, 2002 | KMBC

Several years ago, a bishop who used to be a priest in Kansas City faced two allegations of sexual misconduct, KMBC 9 News' Martin Augustine reported Wednesday.

Bishop Joseph Hart retired last year after more than 20 years as leader of a Wyoming Diocese. The allegations of sexual misconduct stemmed from his years as a priest in Kansas City.

Diocese officials released information about the two claims against Hart Wednesday after getting news that the family of one of the alleged victims was about to go public.

"Our primary need is to heal some of this pain," said the Rev. Patrick J. Rush of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

Rush, vicar general of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, said he was asked by the Wyoming diocese to let people know in Kansas City that the information was about to be made public.

Hart was born and raised in Kansas City. He served as pastor at St. John Francis Regis from 1969 to 1976, vice chancellor of the diocese in the late '60s, and assistant pastor at Visitation for a few years before that.

The first accusation surfaced in 1989. A man claimed that Hart fondled him when he was a student 20 years earlier. Although church records show that the man never saw who touched him, a review committee found that the claim lacked credibility, Augustine reported.

The second complaint came in 1992 from siblings of a man who had died a few years before then. As a result of the complaint, Hart was asked to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which he agreed to have.

It was determined that Hart did not appear to be a threat to himself or other people, according to church records.

"These unfounded accusations have caused me great pain. They cause me great embarrassment, even in my innocence. I categorically and completely deny any improper conduct," Hart wrote.

Local Catholic leaders said the results of the church's investigation are why they wanted the information to come out. "These are allegations of sexual abuse, which are tragic, but not every accused person is necessarily guilty," Rush said.

The church offered counseling and limited financial assistance in the first case, Augustine reported.

The family in the second case did not ask for money, but they ask for the investigation.

No allegations of misconduct were reported in Wyoming. The current bishop in Wyoming said he fully supports Hart.

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