Catholic diocese in Montana seeks
bankruptcy protection in sex abuse claims
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[April 01, 2017]
By Keith Coffman
(Reuters) - A Roman Catholic diocese in
Montana has filed for bankruptcy protection, months before facing its
first trial of a civil lawsuit stemming from child sex abuse claims
against its clergy, church officials and the plaintiffs' lawyers said on
The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy
petition in Montana federal court as part of a negotiated settlement of
dozens of "credible" sex abuse cases that date from 1950s through the
1990s, lawyers for 72 victims and the diocese said in separate
At least 15 other U.S. Catholic districts and religious orders have been
driven to seek Chapter 11 protection by a sex abuse scandal that erupted
in 2002. Montana’s other Catholic diocese in Helena, the state capital,
filed for bankruptcy in 2012 to settle cases stemming from similar
If granted by a judge, the Great Falls bankruptcy would allow the
diocese and its insurer to contribute to a fund that would be set aside
to compensate victims, the diocese said in a statement.
The total sum paid to victims will be determined after both sides
negotiate settlement terms.
Timothy Kosnoff, a Seattle lawyer who has represented victims in both of
the Montana diocesan cases, told Reuters that bankruptcy is the only
realistic mechanism to settle the claims.
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However, he said obstacles remained to reaching a resolution,
including the insurance carrier's resistance to pay fair
compensation to the victims.
"Let there be no illusions. Despite this sensible step forward,
speedy resolution is unlikely and the future of the diocese remains
clouded," he said.
A lawyer for 34 of the victims, Vito de la Cruz, said Friday’s
bankruptcy will allow his clients to receive “a measure of justice”
in a reasonable amount of time rather than the years it would take
to try each case separately.
Great Falls Bishop Michael Warfel said he felt "profound sorrow"
over the abuse and offered "sincere apologies" to the victims.
(Editing by Steve Gorman)
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