Reno Diocese Starts Abuse Hotline

By Martha Bellisle
Reno Gazette-Journal [Reno NV]
July 5, 2003


The Diocese of Reno has established a victim's assistance phone line for people to report sexual abuse by priests or other church workers. In Reno, call 329-6009 or call toll-free 866-329-6009.

Anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon or church worker in Reno or anywhere in the country can now call a special number at the Diocese of Reno to report the misconduct and ask for help.

The new hotline serves two purposes, said Brother Matthew Cunningham, diocese spokesman. It gives victims an outlet for reporting sexual misconduct with minors by church employees, he said. The call could lead to a criminal or church investigation, he said.

It also gives victims access to newly appointed victim assistance coordinators, he said. Three new advocates have been assigned to work through the diocese to help people struggling with the impact of sexual abuse whether it be emotional support, professional counseling or medical attention, he said.

Cunningham will be the only person to answer the line or listen to recordings left at the number, he said. The local number is 329-6009 and the toll-free number is (866) 329-6009.

Even before the new phone line went into effect last month, Cunningham said, he already had taken calls from local residents who said they were abused by a priest while living outside Washoe County or Nevada.

He filed police reports on several of the cases and contacted the appropriate dioceses, he said. Cunningham refused to provide details on the cases.

"If people are abused, part of what we need to do is help them resolve issues that come from that," he said. "We need to get them back to the place they came from and know who to contact.

"What we want to do is to assist them in resolving whatever issues may still be out there."

The new diocese services came in response to a charter established last year by the Catholic Bishops of the United States, Cunningham said.

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted after hundreds of clergy sexual abuse cases across the country came to light, sets a protocol for dioceses to use when handling sexual misconduct cases.

The Diocese of Reno has not been named in any lawsuit claiming clergy sexual abuse. However, a longtime pastor of one of its churches was accused of sexual misconduct in 11 lawsuits filed against the Diocese of Louisville, where the priest had previously worked.

Nine women in Kentucky accused Monsignor Robert Bowling, pastor of St. Therese the Little Flower Church for almost three decades, of fondling or molesting them when they were children. Two Reno women also filed claims, saying he fondled them or behaved sexually inappropriately toward them as adults.

On June 11, the Louisville diocese apologized to victims as it settled these and more than 200 other cases and agreed to pay victims $25.7 million.

Despite the settlement, Bowling maintained his innocence. He died of cancer three days after the settlement was announced.

The Reno diocese has various responses to claims of sexual misconduct by clergy, Cunningham said.

If the case is recent or ongoing, he said, the diocese would contact law enforcement and the state Department of Child Protective Services. The Diocesan Review Board, set up last year, also would launch an investigation into the allegations, he said.

If the abuse occurred years ago and reaches beyond the statute of limitations, the allegations would still be reported to child protective officials, he said, but the review board would carry the bulk of the responsibility of looking into the charges.

Washoe County Deputy District Attorney James Shewan, who specializes in crimes against children, said few older cases result in criminal charges.

"If they're just coming forward with this, it's really hard to prosecute the case because of the statue of limitations," Shewan said.

A sexual assault on a child that is kept secret at the insistence of the abuser cannot be prosecuted after the victim turns 28, he said. The same is true for a person who is molested, he said.

If there is no attempt to silence the child, the statute would no longer apply once the victim reached 21, the prosecutor said.

That's why most people who make claims of sexual abuse by priests file civil lawsuits instead of criminal charges, he said. That's their only legal recourse.

On the cases reported to the Diocese of Reno, Cunningham said a few reports were made to law enforcement and the information was sent to the diocese of the area where the priest served.

Cunningham said he did not know if the accused priests were still working for their churches and did not know if criminal charges followed.

Besides the claims made against Bowling, Cunningham said there have been no allegations of sexual misconduct made against church workers in the Reno diocese.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.