At a time when the U.S. Catholic bishops are meeting to vote on new measures for bishop accountability, Pope Francis has given the green light for a penal process for a retired U.S. bishop accused of multiple accounts of abuse.
Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming announced on Wednesday that the case of Bishop Joseph Hart, who led the diocese for nearly a quarter century, is now headed toward adjudication by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF).
The announcement was made as part of the diocese’s publication of the names of priests credibly accused of abuse. Hart is among the 11 priests included on the list.
In a column published on Wednesday, Biegler said “In the past, this information was kept confidential, and as a consequence, other children were harmed. Transparency helps prevent future abuse because it makes it almost impossible for those of us in church leadership to backslide on our promise of zero tolerance.”
“It is, we hope, a means of restoring trust with the laity. Credibility depends upon open and honest communication,” he continued.
In cases where a bishop is accused of abuse, a panel of five judges typically holds a canonical trial for the accused. Most recently, the Vatican has followed such a process with Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Guam and former cardinal and priest Theodore McCarrick, the disgraced former archbishop of Washington. While other canonical mechanisms could be utilized, a trial is most likely for a bishop.
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