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Sexual Abuse Survivors React To Diocese Of Helena Bankruptcy

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MISSOULA -

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena files for bankruptcy as part of a $15 million settlement with victims of sexual abuse by clergy members. This comes after two lawsuits were filed back in 2011, claiming clergy members abused 362 children from the 1930's to the 1980's.

"I was really scared, because what they did to me was..," said 60-year-old Francis Burke.

Words can't describe the pain Burke feels, after what he experienced when he was just 6-years-old at the Ursling Academy, a Catholic boarding school in Great Falls.

"I relive the abuse, the rapes in my dreams, you know, that place is a nightmare," Burke said.

Burke spoke at a press conference on Friday in Missoula held by Tamaki Law, the firm representing 95 of people who say they were sexually abused when they were young children at various perishes, missions and churches related to the Diocese of Helena.

"These are the people who have lived in silence for 50 or 60 years, based on what's happened to them," said Blaine Tamaki, the survivors' attorney.

The Diocese of Helena is taking full responsibility and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy withholding $15 million to compensate the 362 currently identified victims. Part of that money will be reserved for other unknown victims.

"I know the pain is real, the pain is in the present tense, and in the name of the church, I want to say we are sorry as a church," said Helena Bishop George Leo Thomas. 

Two lawsuits were filed three years ago, claiming the Diocese shielded the offenders, or knew they posed a threat to children. The church now wants to compensate all survivors.

"I think sadly a lot of this is driven, not by a desire to cover up, but an ignorance of the nature of child abuse," Thomas said.

"You can't forget stuff like that, no matter how young you are, or how little. It really affects you in different ways," said Garry Salois, one of the survivors at the press conference.

Victims at the event said the abuse was not just sexual. Many said they were also physically beaten.

"I don't know what was worse being sexually abused, or beaten everyday, and I don't ever want them to do that to anyone else," Solais said.

As part of the settlement, the Diocese of Helena will publicly apologize to the survivors. The U.S. bankruptcy court now has to approve the settlement. If they do that, the victims will receive their money in late spring or early summer. Each case of abuse will be analyzed to determine how much each survivor receives.

 

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