Judge allows two claims in diocese sex abuse case to proceed in district court
By Seaborn Larson
Great Falls Tribune
February 12, 2018
|Church Steeple and Cross For online church religion|
A federal judge on Monday granted a motion allowing two claims of sexual abuse by an Absarokee priest in the 1970s and '80s to proceed to conclusion through the state courts.
The order by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jim Papas allows two claims to move forward in district court, which was not previously an option after the Great Falls-Billings Diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year to move toward a settlement for the 86 people who have filed claims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Most claim the abuse took place in their youths at the hands of eastern Montana clergy from 1940s to the 1990s.
"The parties have negotiated, and are not making any progress in the Chapter 11 case," Papas said during the hearing. "Time to do something else."
Attorneys for the victims argued in January that while settlement negotiations are not moving forward, processing two claims at the state court level would provide more insight when working toward a settlement for the remaining 84 victims.
The district court case will likely decide whether or not the diocese was negligent in these instances of abuse, as alleged by attorneys for the victims.
The two claims at hand include a victim known in court documents as T.K. (1), who has claimed Father Heretick abused her from 1983 to 1986 while she attended the St. Michael's Church in Absarokee, according to court documents. The other, named in court documents as John Doe 10, has claimed he was abused by both Father Heretick and Father Cawley, beginning when he was 8 years old, spanning the time from 1974 to 1980.
Attorneys for the diocese argued in court documents that the church would be forced to wait out the state court proceedings, further depleting resources that could be used for the settlement as the state cases could take months or years to conclude.
Papas said on Monday said his order reflected the need to approach a settlement.
"Based upon the despicable acts that are the basis of these claims, everyone has an interest to get into a resolution in some fashion in these claims," he said.
"Society members of the church and the citizens of Montana also have an interest in seeing that these abuse claims are resolved in some appropriate fashion," he said.
The state district court cases are filed in Cascade County, although Judge Deborah Kim Christopher of Lake County is presiding over the case.
Papas said in his order that while the two cases proceed in state district court, the path is still open for a settlement plan in the federal bankruptcy court.