Consensus Model Praised in Resolution of Helena Diocese Sex Abuse Claims

640px-Helena_CathedralPerhaps the rural Catholic diocese of Helena Montana can teach the larger Catholic dioceses and archdioceses a thing or two when it comes to resolving sexual abuse claims. The Diocese of Helena has successfully reached a bankruptcy and reorganization plan that includes more than 300 sexual abuse claims through a process of consensus rather than litigation.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, “The plan, which also includes the restructuring of about $17 million in internal diocesan debt, received ‘nearly unanimous approval in voting by the sexual abuse victims and other creditors, and the confirmation order by Judge Myers resolves all outstanding sexual abuse claims against the Diocese of Helena,’ according to a diocesan press release.”

Both sides of the negotiations praised the bishop of the Helena diocese for “putting the litigation on a mediation tract with full disclosure from the beginning.” Although reluctant initially, Bishop George Thomas chose a conciliatory tone in dealing with sexual abuse survivors. The bishop noted, “early on, when I was first made aware of the cases coming at us, my first instinct was pugnacity, that we would fight this thing through, circle the wagons. But as I talked with priests and attorneys and victims and prayed for wisdom and guidance, it became clear pugnacity was not the key.”

This may signal a new trend in dealing with the victims of sexual abuse. Hopefully, other dioceses, archdioceses, as well as other institutions of public trust like the Boy Scouts, the Mormons, and other churches will adopt a similar stance in dealing with sexual abuse victims in the future.

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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