Helena Diocese files for bankruptcy protection amid abuse lawsuits


MISSOULA, Mont. - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday, amid a pair of lawsuits alleging abuse against more than 300 victims. A proposed settlement of $15 million would be paid out to the victims, though the details are still being worked out.

The bankruptcy protection plan, according to a Diocese spokesman, is the result of mediation sessions. The church expects to pay at least $2.5 million of the cost, with insurance firms taking care of the rest. The diocese could also put forth at least $2.5 million for victims who come forward in the future.

Both lawsuits were filed in 2011, alleging that victims were fondled and raped.

"Finally today of all days there is an acknowledgment of the Diocese of Helena, that these crimes took place within their parishes, within their boarding schools and within their churches," said attorney Blaine Tamaki, who served as lead counsel in one of the lawsuits for 95 people he calls "abuse survivors."

On Friday, Bishop George Leo Thomas addressed the lawsuits.

"Child sexual abuse is part of a constitutional makeup and it doesn't go away so there is a zero tolerance policy now that wasn't in place yesteryear," said Thomas.

He apologized to victims in a statement, and says that most clergy accused with credibility have passed away, and none of the clergy are still active. He adds the diocese has created abuse prevention programs.