BILLINGS, Mont. – Representatives of the sex-abuse victims and their survivors from suing a bankrupt Roman Catholic diocese in Montana, in an attempt to provide more than $70 million in assets are available for those who have been abused by church officials.
The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings entered bankruptcy protection in March as part of the settlements with more than 400 people in sexual abuse lawsuits. Church officials said at the time of the diocese and its insurers would contribute to a fund to compensate victims and set aside additional money for those who are still to come.
Mediation is not a settlement until now.
A committee of unsecured creditors representing eight sexual abuse survivors sued the diocese in the U. S. Bankruptcy Court this week, with the goal of achieving a settlement. California lawyer James Stang, who represents the commission, said the complaint was “a part of the process,” the Billings Gazette reported.
The AMERICAN roman Catholic leaders have been struggling with clergy sexual abuse crisis that exploded in 2002, after reporting by The Boston Globe. Nationwide, the church has paid several billion dollars in settlements since 1950. More than 6,500 clergy are accused of abuse and hundreds have been removed from the church.
In the Montana bankruptcy case, the church says that the disputed assets are held in trust for the parishes and thus is not available for the creditors. The creditors argue the property is part of the church of the estate and must be available for the victims.
Rod has represented unsecured creditors in 11 other Catholic church bankruptcies since 2004, including the Diocese of Helena ‘ s bankruptcy. He said each case has resulted in a negotiated solution.
Bishop Michael Warfel said in a statement that the creditors ‘lawsuit was an unfortunate and unnecessary distraction” to the church’s efforts to resolve victims ‘ claims.
Two sexual abuse lawsuits were filed against the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings including one in which a woman in her 60s said that she was abused and raped by the Rev. Emmett Hoffman, while she was a student at the St. Labre Parish and School, between 1955 and 1962. Hoffman died in 2013.
The diocese has abuse prevention programs for more than two decades, the church, the officials said. The program’s screening and training of employees, volunteers, priests and seminarians, and an independent board to review claims.
The Diocese of Helena bankruptcy in the beginning of 2014 to settle about 360 claims of mistreatment and sexual abuse by priests, nuns and lay workers in the diocese.
That agreement, negotiated before the bankruptcy filing, made a $21 million fund for the victims named in the lawsuit and all others who may come forward.
Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com