Nuns’ Request to Bring Diocese to Court Denied

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday rejected a request by an order of nuns to bring the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena back into state court to share in any monetary judgment that goes against it in a pair of child sex-abuse lawsuits.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers on Wednesday ruled against the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province’s motion to lift a stay in legal proceedings granted to the diocese when it filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

The diocese’s bankruptcy reorganization is part of a $15 million settlement with hundreds of people who said they were sexually abused as children across western Montana from the 1940s to the 1970s by clergy and employees of the diocese and the order of nuns.

The lawsuits filed in 2011 include a combined 362 plaintiffs.

The Ursulines are not participating in the settlement, and Myers previously ruled the lawsuits in state court could proceed. Attorneys for the Ursulines then said the nuns were exploring whether the diocese should be liable for part of any judgment made against it. They asked the bankruptcy judge to lift the stay keeping the diocese out of state court.

A trial in the Ursuline case is set for July 14. Attorney Susan Boswell did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.

The order denies allegations it covered up abuse of dozens of Native American children by nuns and priests at the Ursuline Academy in St. Ignatius.

Attorneys for the diocese have said the proposed settlement would end all the plaintiffs’ claims against the diocese, and they opposed the nuns’ attempts to draw them back into lawsuits.

Bishop George Leo Thomas of the Helena diocese said in a statement that the ruling “will enable the Catholic community and its insurers to move the reorganization process forward, thus allowing the abuse claimants to receive some assistance.”

The settlement, if approved, also will name more than 50 priests in western Montana as sexual abusers of children. Most are dead.

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