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Police: Abuse case against former KC priest still open in Wyoming

The Associated Press

CASPER, Wyo. – A criminal investigation into a retired Roman Catholic bishop accused of childhood sexual abuse by more than a dozen men remains open, police in Wyoming said.

A victim advocate from the Natrona County district attorney's office had told an alleged victim that retired Bishop Joseph Hart would not be charged, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

Asked why he wasn't pursuing charges, District Attorney Dan Itzen told Cheyenne police Friday that he is still pursuing charges and the case has not been officially closed, police spokesman David Inman said.

Police and Itzen realized the prosecutor misread or misunderstood details in a probable cause affidavit, Inman said.

Itzen's office in Casper had received the case after the district attorney in Cheyenne recused herself. Part of the misunderstanding arose from a difference in how police in Cheyenne and Casper handle paperwork, Inman said.

"Basically it was, 'Oh I didn't know this and this is what you meant by this and this.' That's what's causing the case to come back to life," Inman said. "They're going to convene with their guys, they're going to call the chief, and we're going to meet again."

Communication between police and prosecutors had been difficult, Inman said.

Itzen referred comment Monday to Assistant District Attorney Michael Schafer, who did not immediately return a phone message.

Hart, 88, was a priest in Kansas City, Missouri, for 21 years before moving to Wyoming, where he served as auxiliary and then full bishop from 1976 until his retirement in 2001.

The first known allegations against Hart dated to the early 1960s and were made in the late 1980s. At least six men have come forward in the past two years to say Hart abused them in Wyoming.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has settled in court with at least 10 victims.

The dioceses in Cheyenne and Kansas City have said the men who've come forward against Hart are credible and church officials have substantiated the allegations against Hart.

Hart has consistently denied all accusations of misconduct. Hart's attorney, Tom Jubin, did not immediately return a phone message Monday seeking comment.