Montana diocese in bankruptcy move amid abuse lawsuits

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A Roman Catholic diocese in the US state of Montana has filed for bankruptcy protection, amid claims hundreds of children were abused.

Two 2011 lawsuits against the diocese in Helena, the state capital, allege that 362 children were abused between 1940-1980.

Plaintiffs claim the diocese protected the offenders or turned a blind eye.

The filing precedes proposed settlements reached during confidential mediation sessions, US media report.

A Montana bankruptcy court will be responsible for approving disbursement of a reported $15m (£9m) in compensation for identified victims, plus an undisclosed amount to be set aside for those plaintiffs who come forward at a later date.

The bankruptcy reorganisation will help resolve the abuse claims, diocese spokesman Dan Bartleson said on Friday.

He said that victims would have the opportunity to vote on the proposed settlement.

Several of the diocese's 16 insurers have filed lawsuits challenging the claims, however, saying they should not have to pay out for alleged abuse which occurred before the policies went into effect.

The diocese, which covers western Montana, employs an estimated 200 people across its parishes, social-service programmes and schools.

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