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Nuns Ask Judge to Keep Lawsuit Stay in Place

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An order of nuns being sued by people who claim they were sexually abused as children is asking a federal judge to refuse a request from the victims’ attorneys to proceed with their lawsuit in state court.

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena halted state sex-abuse lawsuits against the at the Ursuline Academy in St. Ignatius and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena after the diocese filed for federal bankruptcy protection in January as part of a proposed $15 million settlement.

Sherlock previously combined the proceedings in the two state lawsuits filed by a total of 362 people who say they were abused between the 1940s and 1970s across western Montana.

But the Ursulines are not participating in the settlement negotiated by the diocese, and victims’ attorneys want a federal bankruptcy judge to lift the automatic stay in the Ursulines’ lawsuit that came with the diocese filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys said Sherlock’s stay should be applied only to the diocese as the debtor, not the Ursulines, who are a third party in the bankruptcy case.

Attorneys for the Ursulines say the state lawsuit can’t properly proceed without participation of the diocese, because the two cases are too closely linked and the Ursulines have their own claims against the diocese.

The two lawsuits filed in 2011 claim clergy members groomed and then abused the children, while the diocese shielded the offenders and knew or should have known about the threat they posed to children.

The Ursulines are not part of the settlement. The lawsuit against the order includes 95 of the 362 plaintiffs alleges that nuns at the St. Ignatius school abused dozens of Native American children.

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