HELENA – An insurance company has filed a federal lawsuit against the Helena-based Catholic Diocese of Montana, saying that the church is trying to make it cover some of the costs associated with defending former nuns and priests accused of child abuse in the 1930s through the 1970s.
In court documents, the Arrowood Indemnity Co. said the diocese has sought a defense from a number of insurance companies in connection with two lawsuits filed in Lewis and Clark District Court. The insurance companies that sold general liability policies to the diocese have agreed to defend the church in those lawsuits.
The diocese also demanded a defense from Arrowood, saying that the company or one of its predecessors sold general liability insurance from 1940 through 1960 that provides coverage to the diocese for the abuse lawsuits, according to the documents.
However, the insurance company says that after an extensive search of its existing historical records, it can’t find any evidence that it provided coverage to the diocese. The company adds an independent investigation by the church also couldn’t uncover any evidence that it sold the diocese insurance.
“Although the diocese presented Arrowood with over 700 pages of documents … there is not a single document that refers in any way to any general liability policy of insurance being issued by (Arrowood and its affiliates) …” the lawsuit states.
The company is seeking a declaratory judgment that it is not obligated to defend the diocese.
Marshal Mickelson, a Butte attorney representing Arrowood, declined to comment on the pending litigation. Church officials said they hadn’t been served with Arrowood’s federal court lawsuit, so they couldn’t comment on the allegations.
However, diocese spokeswoman Renee St. Martin Wizeman said their attorney said they would seek a “standstill and tolling agreement,” which would put the lawsuit on hold while both parties continued to search their historic documents.
“Arrowood is one of 16 insurance companies that we tendered claims to,” Wizeman said. “We are trying to go through our files, which are in various locations, looking to see what our records are as far as coverage goes.”
In the district court lawsuits, individuals alleged both male and female clergy committed abusive acts, including fondling, forced sodomy and an offer of cash for sex in Helena and other locations from the 1940s into the 1970s. The lawsuits allege that the Helena diocese engaged in a pattern of employing, sheltering and protecting clergy who it knew, or should have known, were engaged in sexual abuse.
The Diocese of Helena has previously said that it has made many changes to address the issues, and that no priests in the diocese are named in the suits. Most of the accused clergy are believed to be dead.
Church officials have agreed to mediation in the cases and to open many of its financial and personnel records in the process.