Montana Catholic diocese files for bankruptcy in abuse settlement


Sat Feb 1, 2014

Jan 31 (Reuters) – A Montana Roman Catholic diocese filed for bankruptcy on Friday as part of a proposed $17.5 million settlement with hundreds of adults alleging childhood sexual abuse by its priests, nuns and lay workers, a church spokesman said.

The Helena diocese, serving an estimated 44,500 Catholics in 57 parishes and 38 missions in western Montana, is the eleventh U.S. diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization since 2004 because of liabilities linked to child abuse cases.

Under the proposed agreement, the church would pay $15 million to settle claims brought by 362 victims in two lawsuits filed in 2011. It also would set aside an additional $2.5 million for future claims and to cover legal costs, said Helena diocese spokesman Dan Bartleson.

“We don’t really have any reserves,” Bartleson said, adding that bankruptcy protection would help facilitate the payouts to abuse survivors. The agreement must still be approved by a federal bankruptcy court and by victims.

Attorneys representing the majority of claimants said the move brought the church closer to accepting responsibility for abuse that spanned three decades beginning in the 1940s and affected both young children and young adults. …

The settlement does not include the Ursuline Sisters, also defendants in the case against the Helena diocese, Bartleson said. Claims against the sisters are tied to Native Americans who allege they were abused decades ago as students in Montana schools overseen by the order.

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