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Judge Approves Church Sexual Abuse Payments

A federal bankruptcy judge has approved a plan for the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings to pay $20 million to 86 people who said clergy sexually assaulted them when they were children. The bankruptcy plan was approved Tuesday in Butte.

The Washington-based Tamaki Law office represents 36 of the abuse victims. Attorney Vito de la Cruz says Judge Jim Pappas’ final order provides at least some closure to the abuse survivors he represents.

"It is an acknowledgment by the Church that they were victimized. It is an acknowledgment that the Church had responsibility in that victimization. It provides closure for many folks."

The Eastern Montana diocese filed for bankruptcy in March of 2017, just months before the first jury trials of sex abuse victims were set to begin.

The Billings Gazette reports the diocese is paying $5 million; parishes are paying $4 million; and $2 million is coming from the Catholic Foundation of Eastern Montana.

de la Cruz says some of his clients have come to terms with how they were affected by the sexual abuse. Others, he says, will never heal.

"Because they were so profoundly betrayed by people who — they were taught from a very young age — to trust and who were representatives of God on earth."

The bankruptcy plan was approved the same day a sweeping grand jury report from Pennsylvania was released. It accuses senior Roman Catholic officials of covering up complaints of sexual abuse.

de la Cruz describes these developments as equal parts depressing and encouraging.

“The depressing part is that it’s taken this long, decades, for the Church to be held accountable. The encouraging part is that people are finding the strength and courage to face the horror of their abuse and step forward. Just like the #metoo movement, it takes a little bit to get people to understand that they do have rights and that they will be heard."

The Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy in early 2014 and settled 360 claims for $21 million.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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