GREAT FALLS – A federal bankruptcy judge in Montana approved a $20 million settlement between the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and survivors of sexual abuse.
The settlement ended a seven-year lawsuit involving 86 plaintiffs who had they had been sexually abused by Catholic nuns and priests from the 1950s through the 1990s, according to a news release from Tamaki Law Offices, which represents 38 of the victims.
The diocese’s insurer, Catholic Mutual, will pay $8 million of the settlement. The remaining $12 million will be divided as follows: $5 million from the Diocese, $4 million from individual parishes, $2 million from the Catholic Foundation of Eastern Montana and $1 million from St. Labre Indian School.
The Diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2017, just months before multiple jury trials were scheduled to start.
During trial, the victims’ attorneys said they were planning to allege that the Diocese knew that Father Joseph Heretick was a danger to children and ignored complaints from parents. Heretick was sent to a treatment center for pedophile priest in the 1980s, which recommended he remain out of the ministry.
Attorneys said they would also argue another alleged perpetrator, Father William Cawley, left the Great Falls Diocese to teach at York Catholic High School in Harrisburg, Pa. Cawley left that position in 2012, shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
This suit marks the 15th filed by a Catholic Diocese in the United States related to alleged abuse by the clergy. The Diocese of Helena, which covers western Montana, filed suit in 2012.