MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota diocese filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday, the 14th nationwide and third in the state to do so in the face of mounting claims of sexual abuse by clergy.

The Diocese of New Ulm, which covers 15 counties in rural south and west-central Minnesota, said in a statement that filing for bankruptcy protection is the fairest way to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse while continuing its operations. Bishop John LeVoir also apologized to victims and abuse survivors.

"Victims and survivors have shown incredible courage by stepping forward to help prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again," LeVoir said in a statement. "Victims and survivors must be treated with dignity and just compensation is owed them, as well as our daily prayers."

The diocese and some of its parishes faced 101 lawsuits under a Minnesota law that created a three-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file claims. That window closed in May 2016. The diocese said that reorganization will help make sure all victims are compensated, noting that if the cases were resolved one by one, available assets and insurance would be used up before all cases could be heard.

The diocese said most of the lawsuits stemmed from abuse that was reported to have happened from the 1950s to the 1970s. The diocese said most of the accused priests are deceased and there are no accused priests serving in parish ministry in the diocese.

Last year, after urging by victims' attorneys, the diocese released the names of 16 priests that had credible allegations of child sexual abuse against them.

Attorneys representing victims of sexual abuse by clergy vowed to keep seeking justice.

"The bankruptcy filing does not stop the pursuit of justice for sexual abuse survivors," attorney Mike Finnegan said in a statement. "Survivors will continue to seek truth and accountability in the bankruptcy process."

The diocese, which serves about 55,000 Catholics, said parishes, schools and other Catholic organizations are separate corporations, not part of the bankruptcy filing.

In Minnesota, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Duluth filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015. Those cases are pending. Nationwide, 11 other dioceses and two religious orders have also filed for reorganization.

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