Victims upset by Diocese handling of abuse claims


BUTTE, Mont. - Some Catholic sex abuse victims are claiming an information line set up to help is actually victimizing them all over again.

The Catholic Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy protection in January after a proposed $15 million settlement from claims clergy members abused more than 300 children over five decades. Victims have until August 11 to join the suit.

When we started digging deeper, we uncovered a possible problem that's making it tough on victims.

On the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena's website it's not difficult for victims to find more information on filing sexual abuse claims. A box in the corner takes you to claim forms, deadline information, and gives you two phone numbers to call with questions.

That's where some tell us the problems start.

"It's so very, very difficult for most victims to talk about what happened to them," said survivor Jeb Barrett. He said a Helena Diocese priest abused him.

He said he called the first number on the webpage.

"That was a real barrier to explain yourself once and then again," said Barrett.

Barrett said he was interviewed by a nun, then he tried the second number on the webpage.

"It's the voice mail box for the Diocese of Helena," said Barrett. "That is also bad."

But it isn't the church's voice mail box -- the message goes to court-appointed people to walk them through how to file a claim. One of those people is James Stang. He said he's used the same voicemail system with survivors in dioceses around the country.

"Survivors have a lot of different reactions," said Stang. "If that voice mail box said the official creditors committee for the diocese of Helena chapter 11, they might hang up because they have no idea what that is."

Others say voicemail doesn't cut it.

"So I'm not going to leave them my phone number," said Barbara Dorris with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "What if my husband or kids or family pick up the phone and get the message?"

Advocates said the way it's working now could make it even more difficult on victims trying to seek help.

The diocese wants victims to continue to call the phone lines, attorneys will be checking messages. The deadline is August 11.

More Stories