Hart accusers say they survived years of trauma and institutional failures
For decades, retired bishop Joseph Hart has faced accusations that he sexually abused boys. Here are three of their stories.
July 06, 2020
Joseph Hart became a priest in 1955, and over his 46-year career in Kansas City and Wyoming, he developed a reputation for ingratiating himself with families in his flock, especially brothers.
Hart would walk into the Hunter family’s Kansas City home without ringing the doorbell. They never locked their doors — the whole neighborhood was like that. Hart, who in the late ‘50s was just starting out as a priest, was like family to the Hunters; his photo hung in the living room. Mrs. Hunter worked in the cafeteria of Guardian Angels, Hart’s first parish. Darrel, her son, worked at the church after school and over the summer.
John’s father died when he was young. His brother did housework around the Kansas City rectory where Hart lived in the 1960s, when Hart worked at the attached Catholic school. John remembers all the soda Hart had, so much that John would sneak Pepsi to his friends. His mother had Hart over for dinner, happy to have an adult male presence in the lives of her seven children.
The church gave Martin’s mother a job at a Cheyenne elementary school, one of three jobs she worked after his father abandoned the family. The church gave them food, and Martin and his brother did chores for Hart, who arrived in Wyoming in the mid-1970s to become bishop, the highest-ranking Catholic in the state. As such, he commanded significant authority and respect from the tens of thousands of Catholics in Wyoming.
Martin would walk home with $10 in his pocket after mowing the bishop’s lawn. Hart’s home was like “Disneyland,” Martin said, stocked with soda and candy.
“You just felt so great being able to go there,” Martin said.
But all three men — John and Martin are pseudonyms, Darrell Hunter is not — say Hart’s actions weren’t altruistic.
Hart, the men say, groomed each of them and their families. They say he sexually abused them or their brothers on trips, during the sacrament of confession and in the church buildings where the boys did Hart’s housework. He gave some of them alcohol, asked about their sex lives or showed them pornography, they recalled. He told them no one would believe them. He told John he wouldn’t see his father in Heaven if he told anyone.
“There’s a pattern from Guardian Angels to St. Regis, from Missouri to Wyoming,” said John, referring to two Kansas City parishes where Hart worked in the 1950s and ‘60s. “He’ll take high-risk kids, kids without dads or maybe dad’s an alcoholic — I don’t know, but he seemed to prey on the less fortunate.”
“He completely victimized the families he was in,” said Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who began investigating Hart in 2001. She has represented several of his victims in lawsuits against the church.