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Continued: Catholic diocese of Helena files for bankruptcy protection amid child sex abuse lawsuits

  • Article by: MATT VOLZ , Associated Press
  • Last update: January 31, 2014 - 5:31 PM

He also said the settlement falls short because it does not publicly name the church officials who shielded and protected predator clergy members.

"Those individuals have to be exposed and punished," Clohessy said.

Thomas said in response that church officials will comb their records to see if there were "intentional failures of leadership." But the records from the time of the abuse are incomplete, he said.

The two lawsuits filed in 2011 claim clergy members groomed and then abused the children from the 1940s to the 1970s. They claim the diocese shielded the offenders and knew or should have known the threat they posed to children.

The plaintiffs, the diocese and the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province, another defendant, began mediation talks in 2012, but the talks faltered with legal challenges by the church's insurers over the claims they are obligated to cover.

A court hearing was scheduled for Friday ahead of the first civil trials, which were to begin in March. Howard said she expects the court proceedings will be suspended.

The diocese's territory covers all or part of 23 counties in western Montana and employs about 200 people in its parishes, schools and social-service programs. It was created in 1884, five years before Montana became a state, and covered the entire state until the Diocese of Great Falls was formed in 1904, according to the Helena diocese's website.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings now covers the eastern half of Montana.

Most clergy members who were accused in the lawsuits have died, and none remains in active ministry, diocese officials said.

In one of the lawsuits, the plaintiffs said they were repeatedly raped, fondled or forced to perform sex acts while at school, on the playground, on camping trips or at the victims' homes.

The second lawsuit, filed a week after the first in 2011, includes 95 of the 362 plaintiffs and contains similar allegations against priests, but also alleged that nuns at the Ursuline Academy in St. Ignatius abused dozens of Native American children.

The Ursulines are not part of the proposed settlement, the diocese said.

Blaine Tamaki, the plaintiffs' attorney in that lawsuit, said the case against the Ursulines will proceed to its July date.

Tom Johnson, an attorney for the Ursulines, acknowledged the sides were still far apart in negotiations, but that the order intends to either settle or file for bankruptcy on its own.

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