Victims: $70 million in assets from Montana Catholic parishes at stake in clergy-abuse settlement

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Montana Clergy Abuse Case

More than $70 million in assets at Catholic parishes in Eastern Montana, including in Billings, could be at stake as part of the regional diocese’s bankruptcy amid claims of Montana clergy abuse / sexual assault stemming back to the 1950s.

Survivors of sexual assault at the hands of priests and nuns dating back to the 1950s say the Great Falls-based diocese has understated its total assets by not including properties held in local parishes, according to documents filed Monday in federal bankruptcy court in Butte.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, a move that church officials said would help develop a compensation fund for victims of clergy abuse and set aside money for more who come forward.

“The resolution of this litigation is critical to (the diocese) … because it will determine the magnitude of distributions to its creditors, including the survivors of the childhood sex abuse enabled by (the diocese) or whether (the diocese) can continue to avoid being held accountable to the survivors,” attorneys for the survivors wrote.

A total of 86 victims are involved, according to an October story by the Great Falls Tribune. The Montana clergy abuse cases took place over decades, mostly in rural and reservation parishes.

Attorneys for the victims and the diocese tried to negotiate a settlement, but talks broke off this fall. The diocese has claimed that its assets for parishes are held in trust and protected from bankruptcy claims.

Assets listed in the Monday filing include parish buildings, school property and other land held by the diocese. Billings Central Catholic High School is among the assets listed in the 62-page document.

Parishes listed in Billings include Mary Queen of Peace, St. Bernard, St. Patrick Co-Cathedral and St. Pius X.

Also included are Roman Catholic Bishop of Great Falls, Our Lady of Lourdes of Great Falls, Holy Family Parish of Great Falls, St. Joseph of Plentywood, Holy Spirit of Great Falls, St. Mary of Livingston, St. John The Evangelist Church of Baker, St. Bernard Church of Charlie Creek, St. Theresa of Lambert, Corpus Christi of Great Falls and St. Anthony Church of Culbertson.

MTN News has reached out to James Stang, a California attorney representing the survivors and other creditors, for comment. A diocese representative in Great Falls said the group would give a statement at a later time.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings is among the latest entities within the Catholic church to seek bankruptcy protection in the wake of clergy abuse scandals. In 2014, the Diocese of Helena, which represents western Montana, filed for bankruptcy to settle about 360 claims of abuse and sexual abuse.