UNITED STATES.- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings reached a $20 million agreement to settle claims by 86 people who said they were sexually abused as children by clergy employed by the Montana diocese dating back to the 1950s, officials said Friday.
The abuse happened at the hands of dozens of priests, deacons and at least one nun in Native American reservations and in towns and cities throughout the diocese’s territory across eastern Montana, attorneys for about half of the plaintiffs said.
The victims are now adults, many of them elderly, and some have died waiting for the case to be resolved, said attorney Craig Vernon.
“The money is symbolic,”Vernon said. “The diocese is finally taking responsibility — it’s a big step toward letting them heal.”
The diocese last year filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization protection to negotiate a settlement of the two lawsuits first filed in 2012, but the prospects of reaching a deal seemed dim as recently as last month.
The sides broke the impasse to reach the agreement calling for the $20 million victims’ trust fund, a separate fund for future claims and unspecified non monetary terms to be worked out at a later date.
The settlement agreement will be included in the diocese’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, which must be approved by the 86 victims or their estates and by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jim Pappas. Final approval is expected within the next four months, said Bishop Michael Warfel.