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Diocese of Helena bankruptcy: $33.6M in liabilities more than twice its assets

Diocese of Helena bankruptcy: $33.6M in liabilities more than twice its assets


HELENA – The liabilities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena total $33.6 million, or more than twice its assets of slightly more than $16 million, according to its bankruptcy filing.

However, the diocese did not assign a monetary value under “liabilities” to a series of claims filed by a law firm representing hundreds of people who said certain diocese clergy members sexually abused them over decades.

On Jan. 31, the Diocese of Helena filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as part of a $15 million settlement intended to go to those victims. It covers Catholic churches in all or part of counties in western Montana.

The separate Great Falls-Billings Diocese covers the rest of the state.

In a filing late Friday, the Diocese of Helena submitted documents to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court listing its assets and liabilities.

As assets, the diocese listed real estate worth $7.4 million. That includes Legendary Lodge, a camp on Salmon Lake, worth $3.5 million, and the International Paper site on South First Street West in Missoula, worth $2.2 million.

Among other real estate assets were Bishop George Leo Thomas’ residence in Helena, valued at nearly $367,000; the Montana Catholic Conference building in Helena, worth about $245,000; and the Catholic Social Services building in Helena, about $228,500.

In the filing, the diocese did not count among its assets the property – churches, land, schools and cemeteries – held by various Catholic parishes across western Montana. However, the filing did say these properties have a combined assessed value of nearly $33 million.

The filing said that under canon law, each entity within the diocese is separate within the church. The diocese may have title to property held for the benefit of those separate entities, the filing said.

But it added that “except as otherwise stated, the property listed on the attached schedule is held for the benefit of the parishes and institution of the diocese, and is not property of the estate.”

The diocese’s personal property was valued at $8.7 million in the bankruptcy filing. The largest personal property asset category was $6.1 million in deposits and loans owed by various Catholic churches or schools to the diocese.

Holy Rosary Parish of Bozeman owes the most to the diocese, $1.8 million, the filing said, followed by Butte Central Catholic Schools at $938,805 and Loyola Sacred Heart School in Missoula at $877,273.

Two priests also are on the list, owing $26,700 and $18,491 to the diocese.

The diocese owns 39 vehicles with a total value of $346,037. Except for the bishop’s 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee, valued at $20,000 and the chancery’s 2003 Honda CRV valued at $7,450, the other 37 vehicles listed by the diocese are parish and school cars.

The diocese also owns three pontoon boats valued at a total of $12,000 for use at Legendary Lodge.

The diocese lists $1.1 million in personal property in checking and savings bank accounts in Helena.

It reported $5,400 in miscellaneous artifacts, such as a grandfather clock, oil painting, coat of arms and crucifix, and $15,300 worth vestments and a jewelry chest.

The diocese reported $4.8 million in various investment accounts with DA Davidson in Bozeman, Wells Fargo Wealth Management in Helena and The Investment Group in Helena.

As for its liabilities, the diocese listed $28.9 million in “creditors holding unsecured nonpriority claims.”

The largest was $7 million in deposits and loans for its endowment fund held for parishes and programs and $5.3 million for various unfunded retirement liabilities for the diocese’s clergy senior status trust.

It reported $4.7 million in creditors holding “secured claims” against the diocese. The largest creditors listed were $4.6 million owed to Ravalli County Bank of Hamilton for a commercial real estate loan to St. Francis of Assisi Church there, and $4.3 million owed to First Interstate Bank in Helena for a construction loan for Holy Rosary Parish of Bozeman.

In addition, the Good Samaritan Ministries Thrift Store of Helena had a $2.6 million operating loan made by the Foundation for the Diocese Helena.

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at: or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

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