Facing Abuse Claims, Helena Diocese Files for BankruptcyMove Part of Proposed Settlement for Victims Who Say Clergy Members Sexually Abused Them

By Tom Corrigan
Wall Street Journal
January 31, 2014

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday afternoon in an effort to resolve more than 350 sexual-abuse claims.

The diocese listed assets between $1 million and $10 million and liabilities between $10 million and $50 million in its bankruptcy petition, filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Butte, Mont.

The Chapter 11 filing follows a mediation process that resulted in a settlement with insurers and the individuals who have brought sexual abuse claims against the diocese.

"Once the reorganization proceedings conclude, we will be able to plan confidently for future ministry for the people of the Church of the Diocese of Helena," Helena Bishop George Leo Thomas said Friday in a statement.

Should a bankruptcy judge approve the settlement, the diocese would pay $15 million to currently identified holders of sexual-abuse claims with additional funding set aside for others who may come forward with abuse claims in the future.

The majority of the proposed settlement would be funded by the diocese's insurers, though the diocese estimates it would pay at least $2.5 million to fund claims and legal costs.

Most of the 362 claims that have been brought against the diocese allegedly took place between 30 and 60 years ago, according to the news release.

"On behalf of the entire Diocese of Helena, I express my profound sorrow and sincere apologies to anyone who was abused by a priest, a sister, or a lay Church worker," Bishop Thomas said. "No child should experience harm from anyone who serves in the Church."

Ten other U.S. dioceses have turned to bankruptcy protection since 2004 to deal with the financial difficulties of sexual-abuse litigation; most recently, Stockton, Calif., and Gallup, N.M., have filed bankruptcy petitions.

Through 2012, the Catholic Church in the U.S. paid an estimated $2.2 billion to cover settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders, attorney fees and other costs, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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