GREAT FALLS – On Tuesday, a Butte bankruptcy judge approved a $20 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The lawsuit alleged multiple priests and nuns in the diocese sexually abused children for decades. The seven-year-old lawsuit includes 86 plaintiffs.
The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2017, months before jury trials for victims’ civil cases were set to begin.
One year later, the diocese filed to dismiss the bankruptcy.
Bishop Michael Warfel said then that the legal case was draining too many church resources that could go to the victims.
The bishop called the settlement another step in a long process.
“Some people I guess would think it should be celebratory in that it was approved,” he said. “I see it more as a matter of one more step along the process. There’s still some documents that need to be signed because of amendments to what was presented. I see it as there’s a lot of challenges ahead.”
Bishop Warfel added that the monetary part of the settlement should be distributed in about a month. Money for the settlement will come from a series of sources including $4 million from parishes, $8 million from the liability insurer for the diocese, and from sales of diocesan properties.
As part of the settlement, the diocese agreed to post on its website a list of all known past and present clergy members who have been identified by victims, develop a whistleblower policy, and all victims of abuse would be allowed to tell their story.
Proposed Settlement Funding Contributions:
- Catholic Mutual – $8 million
- Diocesan Savings in Deposit & Loan Fund – $250,000
- Sale of Villa Apts in Great Falls – $1,500,000
- Sale of Great Falls property – $1,000,000
- Sale of Billings lots – $250,000
- Transfer Parish Past-Dues to DLF Loans – $1,000,000
- St. Labre Contribution – $1,000,000
- Catholic Foundation of Eastern MT (CFEM) contribution – $1,000,000
- Capital Asset Support Corp (CASC) contribution – $2,000,000
- Parish contribution – $4,000,000
Reporting by Tim McGonigal for MTN News
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Judge approves $20 million settlement between Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and sexual assault victims