HELENA – A federal bankruptcy judge could resolve a pair of multimillion dollar cases this week that would settle legal claims over decades old sex abuse cases involving church-run schools in Montana.
The settlement agreements are aimed at resolving the suits filed on behalf of victims against the Catholic Diocese of Helena and the Ursuline Nuns of the Western Province, based out of California.
The suit filed against the Diocese involves 362 victims, with another 232 victims named in the suit against the nuns. The victims claim the abuse happened while they were attending Catholic-operated schools in St. Ignatius and other Western Montana communities.
The Diocese settlement is valued at $15 million, while the settlement total with the Uruline Nuns amounts to $4.45 million.
The Diocese filed bankruptcy just over a year ago so it could resolve the settlements. On Wednesday, U.S. District Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers is set to review terms of the agreements, including the amounts paid through insurance carriers, in a hearing in Coeur D’Alene.
Under terms of the deal, a trust for payments will be established, and individual abuse claims will be reviewed with payouts based on the incidents and their long-term impacts to each claimant.
“If the bankruptcy judge approves the settlements, the hundreds of victims who came forward will receive not only compensation for the abuse they suffered, but closure of their legal claims which they have waged courageously for years against the Diocese and the Western Province, ” said the victims’ attorney Vito de la Cruz in a prepared statement.
Attorney Bryan G. Smith said: “Although forcing the church to pay millions is the only form of justice available in our civil justice system, this case was ultimately never about money for our clients – it was about holding the church accountable so they will take steps to protect children in the future.”