The Diocese of Great Falls/Billings has agreed to settle 86 sexual abuse claims for $20 million, ending a lawsuit that began in 2011.
The agreement was announced in a press release from Tamaki Law Offices, which represents 38 of the 86 plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges that multiple priests and nuns working for the diocese sexually abused children from the 1950s through the 1990s.
The Diocese filed for bankruptcy in March of 2017, just months before the first of many jury trials were scheduled to begin.
The cases that would have been tried first involved Fr. Joseph Heretick. In that case Plaintiffs alleged that the Diocese knew that Fr. Heretick was a danger to children, ignoring complaints from parents about his conduct around children.
Documents produced in the lawsuit revealed that the Bishop of the Great Falls Diocese sent Fr. Heretick to a treatment center for pedophile priests in the 1980s and that the treatment center recommended that Heretick not be put back in the ministry. Plaintiffs alleged that the Bishop ignored these recommendations.
Settlement discussions continued throughout the bankruptcy and resulted in a settlement on April 24, 2018, after a mediation before the Honorable Gregory Zive, a bankruptcy judge who agreed to serve as mediator in the case.
This is the 15th bankruptcy filed by a Catholic Diocese in the U.S., and follows a bankruptcy filed by the Diocese of Helena (covering Western Montana) in 2012.
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