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Great Falls-Billings diocese files for bankruptcy as part of sex - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Great Falls-Billings diocese files for bankruptcy as part of sex abuse settlement

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The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings plans to file for bankruptcy protection as part of a settlement with 72 people who filed sex abuse claims The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings plans to file for bankruptcy protection as part of a settlement with 72 people who filed sex abuse claims
Bishop Michael Warfel Bishop Michael Warfel
GREAT FALLS -

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings plans to file for bankruptcy protection as part of a settlement with 72 people who filed sex abuse claims, church officials said on Friday.

The Diocese comprises the eastern two-thirds of Montana.

It includes 79 priests (49 active), 51 parishes, and more than 38,000 registered Catholics, according to its website.

In a press release, the diocese said that it is taking a "major step forward" bringing resolution to 72 current claims of abuse by minors by diocesan priests, religious community priests, women religious and lay workers who have served in the diocese."

They expect to make the Chapter 11 reorganization filing on Friday, and the Diocese and its insurance carriers would contribute to a fund to compensate victims and set aside additional money for those who have not yet come forward.

The amount of the settlement has not yet been released.

Bishop Michael Warfel and the Diocese have chosen a "pastoral approach which provided the basis for its having entered this confidential mediation process."

The press release stated that under the supervision of the Bankruptcy Court, the diocese and its insurance carriers would both contribute to a comprehensive settlement, which would compensate the currently identified victims.

There will also be additional settlement funds for any additional unknown victims. 

"On behalf of the entire Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, I express my profound sorrow and sincere apologies to anyone who was abused by a priest, a sister or a lay church worker," Bishop Warfel said.

"No child should experience harm from anyone who serves the church," he said.

None of those who have been credibly accused are active in parish ministry and nearly all are deceased, according to Warfel.

The Diocese of Helena, which serves the rest of the state, filed for bankruptcy in early 2014 to settle about 360 claims of abuse and sexual abuse.

This is the fifteenth Diocesan bankruptcy in the United States according to a press release from Kosnoff Law.

Timothy Kosnoff, along with three other law firms, represent the majority of the abuse survivors.

"The filing automatically stays any further action in pending lawsuits against the diocese. The first cases had been scheduled for trial in July," the release stated.

"The Catholic dioceses around the country have used federal bankruptcy laws to reduce or shed liabilities for child sexual abuse claims," it stated.

According to the release, this follows bankruptcies in the NOrthwest that included the dioceses of Portland, Spokane, Jesuits Oregon Province, and Helena.

The abuse survivors representation released the following statement:

"Bankruptcy represents the only realistic mechanism from working through the myriad of issues involved in case of this nature. Those include determining the total number of abuse victims; identifying those diocesan assets available to pay the claims of victims; and most importantly, overcoming the resistance of the dioceses's insurance company - Catholic Mutual Insurance - to hour its legal obligation to pay fair value to settle claims. These are significant obstacles to resolution. Let there be no illusions. Despite this sensible step forward, speedy resolution is unlikely and the future of the dioceses remains clouded."

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