Bishop Says Church Accepted Responsibility for Sex Abuse

The diocese agreed to set aside $20 million for more than 360 victims named in two lawsuits

By Dillon Tabish

HELENA — Helena Bishop George Leo Thomas says the church had a duty to step up and accept responsibility for former priests and other employees who were accused of sexually abusing children, and he said it would have been wrong not to acknowledge their pain and suffering.

Thomas told the Independent Record in an interview that the church could have fought claims by people in Montana who said they were abused, but it would not be right and they might never have seen a resolution to their cases.

Last year, the church posted a list online of the names of those accused. That was one condition of settling lawsuits filed by hundreds of people who said they were abused by priests, nuns and others dating back to the 1940s. The diocese also agreed to set aside $20 million for more than 360 victims named in two lawsuits.

“With or without that agreement, this would have been necessitated by pastoral care. I think that the church has the obligation for outreach and conciliation, but also to pray for those who were victimized or aggrieved. And so I would have done that with or without any agreement with the plaintiffs,” Thomas said.

“Had we chosen to fight the whole thing and stay in court, we would have looked at 20 to 30 years of trials. And when you have claimants in this particular age bracket, they would never see any resolution. So pastoral care was the obvious solution,” he said.

He said defending the cases would have been difficult, because they went back 60 years, and most of the defendants are long deceased.

He said none of those who were credibly accused remain active in the ministry, Thomas said.

Bryan Smith, an attorney with Tamaki Law in Washington state, said few of his clients in this case would attend any church service. He represented about 90 clients.

“You have a church that betrays them as children,” he said. He said many are still suffering.

Thomas estimated 1,200 people attended services for the victims, which Thomas said is part of the healing process.

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