Wyoming diocese names 11 former clergy accused of sexual abuse

Star Tribune, Wyoming/June 13, 2019

By Seth Klamann

The Diocese of Cheyenne published Wednesday the names of 11 priests who have faced credible allegations of abuse, most of whom were accused of the misconduct while serving in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Catholic Register newsletter publicly acknowledged abuse allegations against 10 new priests, nearly a year after the diocese announced it had reopened an investigation into former bishop Joseph Hart and found the accusers of the former leader of the Wyoming Catholic church credible.

In a column accompanying the list of names, Bishop Steven Biegler apologized to those he said had been abused by clergy.

“On behalf of the church, I apologize to each victim, not only for the misconduct of those who committed sexual abuse, but also for the failure of any Church leader who did not take appropriate action after having received a report of an allegation,” Biegler wrote. “Finally, I pledge to do all that we can to assist with your healing and to learn from errors in our past.”

The release comes amid a period of renewed scrutiny for the Catholic Church across the country. Last year across several states, dioceses and state governments released the names of those accused of abuse. A diocese in southern Alabama named 29 men who were credibly accused. In August, a grand jury in Pennsylvania wrote that more than 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children over a period of several decades. The Jesuits, a Catholic order, released their own lists late last year, which included the names of two priests who served for a time at St. Stephens, on the Wind River Reservation. The allegations in those cases stemmed from incidents that did not occur at the reservation school.

The diocese began working on its own list in September, after the Star-Tribune requested the names of any clergyman who had been credibly accused of abuse. A church official told the Star-Tribune at the time that the diocese had committed to creating the list before the newspaper’s request but the work began afterward.

The list includes the names of the priests, their assignments, when they entered the priesthood, the number of people they allegedly abused and over what time period. It also includes the priests’ status in the church.

The priests served all over the state, with several working in Casper. Postings include Glendo, Cheyenne, Torrington, Guernsey, Buffalo, Gillette and others.

“Our clergy are expected to be shepherds who guard and protect the flock, especially the least among us,” Biegler wrote. “They are called to imitate the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. Therefore, sexual abuse by clergy is an appalling sin and a reprehensible crime. It contradicts everything we stand for. Each name on this list represents a betrayal of trust, a violation of the innocent and a human tragedy.”

Decades of allegations

The most recently reported case of abuse was in 2003, by Rev. Gerald Chleborad, according to the diocese. He allegedly abused three adolescent males over three time periods: the mid 1980s, 1995 and 2003.

Other allegations — against Revs. Rocco Perone, James Power and Cletus Prado — date back to the 1950s, the list shows.

Several priests had separate incidents of abuse separated by decades, according to the information published by the diocese. The diocese estimates Power’s abuse spanned from 1958 to 1972. He was a priest in Casper, at St. Patrick, during that time. Chleborad’s alleged abuse of three different adolescent boys took place over a period of 20 years. Prado allegedly abused two boys, 20 years apart.

The diocese says no clergy with substantiated abuse claims have served in Wyoming since at least 2004. They say church officials have reported all abuse claims to police. The list totals 30 boys and girls abused by the priests — five of which were allegedly abused in Minnesota, while Rev. Charles Gormly was on assignment at the Diocese of Duluth. Another priest, Ronald Stolcis, is accused of abusing a vulnerable adult man.

Rev. Carl Gallinger, the vicar general of the Cheyenne diocese, referred the Star-Tribune to Chancellor Patti Loehrer for comment. When reached by phone shortly before 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Loehrer told a reporter she was not immediately available to answer questions about settlements in connection with the abuse, who in the diocese knew about the allegations of abuse, to what law enforcement agencies the diocese made reports and the status of a fund that diocese officials have said would be used to provide counseling to abuse survivors.

Loehrer did not respond with answers by press time.

David Clohessy, the former executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the release of the list was a “long overdue step” that he suspected was incomplete.

“Virtually every diocesan list of ‘credibly accused abusers’ is lacking,” Clohessy wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune. “Virtually every bishop splits hairs to minimize the horror and the number of predators he divulges. We urge current and former Wyoming church staff, members and victims to keep speaking up, coming forward, exposing wrongdoers and protecting kids. This is the first step. Now, Wyoming’s bishop must expose clerics who concealed abuse, not just those who committed it.”

He also called on Biegler to release the names of those priests who abused people outside of Wyoming. In his column, Biegler explained that the diocese was releasing the names of priests who faced accusations while under the umbrella of the Cheyenne diocese. It’s only those files, the bishop said, that are complete and fully accurate.

Law firm investigates

The investigation into the church’s history was conducted by Nussbaum Speir, a Colorado Springs law firm that Biegler said has “expertise and experience in conducting similar file reviews for Catholic dioceses.”

“At our request, Nussbaum Speir has provided us with an impartial and comprehensive assessment of 303 files going back to 1950 of Catholic clergy of the Diocese of Cheyenne, including 5 bishops, 253 priests and 45 deacons,” Biegler wrote in his column in the newsletter.

He added that the list is “as accurate as we can make it based on the information we now possess.” But Biegler said the list may not be a full accounting of abuse by Catholic priests in Wyoming.

“However, in some cases we were not able to ascertain whether or not an allegation was substantiated,” he wrote. “If new information comes to light, the list will be updated.”

The list also shows how frequently the priests were reassigned. One priest, Rev. John Murray, was shuffled between 15 different parishes. He is accused of abusing two adolescent girls. He was also named in a lawsuit more than a decade ago, in which he allegedly told one of his victims that he was being reassigned because of his sexual misconduct.

None of the priests are active. Several are dead, a handful had been suspended and a few more are retired.

Accusations include former bishop

The full list of credibly accused clergy include:

  • Gerald Chleborad, who was reported by three adolescent males;
  • Philip Colibraro, who was reported by one adolescent male;
  • Joseph Hart, who was reported by three adolescent males;
  • Anthony Jablonowski, who was reported by four adolescent males;
  • John Murray, who was reported by two adolescent females;
  • Rocco Perone, who was reported by one adolescent male;
  • James Power, who was reported by five adolescent males;
  • Cletus Prado, who was reported by two adolescent males;
  • George Tellez, who was reported by three adolescent females;
  • Charles Gormly, who was reported by one child and four adolescent females;
  • Ronald Stolcis, who was reported by one man (vulnerable adult).

Hart is the highest-ranking official on the list, and his accusations are well-documented. He served here as bishop from 1976 to 2001. He faced several accusations in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where he was stationed before coming to Wyoming, and was named in lawsuits there. That diocese settled with at least six victims, an attorney representing the victims previously told the Star-Tribune.

Shortly after he retired as bishop, Hart faced accusations here. The police and the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office investigated those claims and then closed the investigation, citing a lack of evidence because the accuser, who was an adult and living on the East Coast, allegedly would not return calls. But Biegler, who assumed office two years ago, reopened the investigation into Hart in December 2017. In the process, the diocese became aware of a second alleged victim and publicly announced it believed the accusers and were referring the matter to police.

Hart has consistently denied the accusations. He has been restricted from celebrating mass, and in August, a third accuser in Wyoming came forward.

The Cheyenne Police Department is wrapping up its investigation of Hart, a spokesman told the Star-Tribune earlier this week. The department is in the review process, he said. The spokesman did not immediately return a message Thursday asking if Cheyenne Police had been referred any other priest abuse investigations.

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