HELENA – Roman Catholic churches and entities in Montana are dealing with three separate lawsuits accusing church clergy and personnel of sexually abusing children within the church.
Here is the status of these cases:
• Helena Diocese cases: On Jan. 31, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena, which covers all or part of 23 western Montana counties, filed for bankruptcy protection as part of a negotiated settlement with 362 plaintiffs in two lawsuits filed in Montana District Court in 2011.
The Diocese of Helena and its insurers have agreed to pay $15 million in damages to the victims and set aside at least another $2.5 million for victims that may come forward in the future.
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The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Butte, with input from church creditors and the plaintiffs, must approve the settlement before it can take effect. Creditors and plaintiffs will vote within the coming months on the settlement.
• Ursuline Academy case: One of the lawsuits against the Helena Diocese includes 95 of the 362 plaintiffs and also alleges that nuns at the now-defunct Ursuline Academy at St. Ignatius abused dozens of Native American children.
The Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province have not settled the claims from that second lawsuit. They were part of mediation talks, but plaintiffs’ attorneys now have asked District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena to set a scheduling conference and trial dates in the case. They’re hoping the Helena Diocese bankruptcy case does not delay state court actions in the Ursuline claims.
• Great Falls-Billings Diocese case: Filed a year ago, this lawsuit in state court in Havre is just starting evidence “discovery,” has 34 plaintiffs, and is still adding plaintiffs who say they were sexually abused by church personnel. The church is scheduled to file its initial answer to the lawsuit this week.