COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho – Though a federal court has approved a $20 million settlement compensating hundreds of western Montana Catholics molested by nuns and priests, the trauma endured by the victims is far from over, they said Wednesday.

“This isn’t going to stop me from remembering,” one of the victims said following the bankruptcy hearing. “I walk past a church, I remember it. I walk past a priest, I remember it. I see a nun, I remember it.”

The bankruptcy settlement includes a $15 million payment from the Catholic Diocese of Helena and another $4.45 million from the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province, who ran the Ursuline Academy of St. Ignatius.

Bryan Smith, who represented more than 360 victims, said most attended school at the Ursuline Academy or the St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius.

The diocese was forced to file for bankruptcy last year in order to settle a lawsuit filed by two groups of victims in 2011. U.S. District Judge Terry Myers approved the arrangement in a federal bankruptcy court in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Wednesday morning, without objections from either side.

The hearing was the final chapter in a four-year legal struggle between victims in western Montana and the Catholic Church. Claimants accused both nuns and Jesuit priests of sexual abuse that took place over a span of four decades.

“(The abuse is) never forgotten,” said the victim, who is listed in court documents as one of hundreds of Jane Does and lives in Missoula. “It just goes on and on and on. It never ends. Once a child is sexual assaulted or abused, it’s like a deep-seated memory that just comes.”

During the hourlong hearing, Bishop George Thomas struck a conciliatory tone and complimented the victims’ courage for coming forward. He also apologized on behalf of the diocese.

“I have had people apologize to me before and it doesn’t mean much,” Jane Doe said afterward.

Each of victims listed in court documents will receive at least $2,500 in the next 60 days, and a trust will be established for victims who come forward in the future, Smith said.

Another victim, John Doe of Ronan, also was present for the hearing Wednesday.

He said the financial aspect is only a small piece of the reconciliation. The acknowledgement that the abuse did occur and was covered up by the church for years, is what made Wednesday's hearing important, he said.

“It’s a sense of relief that they have acknowledged it,” he said. “It’s a sad thing that they had to have money force them to do so.” 

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