- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Settlement talks earlier this month between the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province and hundreds of people who claim they were sexually abused by priests and nuns have failed, attorneys said Wednesday.

Molly Howard, an attorney for some of the plaintiffs, filed a report Tuesday in Lewis and Clark County District Court saying the parties were unable to resolve the case through discussions ordered by Judge Jeffrey Sherlock in June. It was the third attempt at a settlement between the parties with a mediator involved, Howard said.

“We didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Howard said of the talks. “This was unsuccessful.”

Ursulines attorney Thomas Johnson said the two sides remain fairly far apart although the nuns were able to bring more money to the table after a lender said they’d put up money against the Ursulines property.

“At this meeting they did offer significantly more but obviously it wasn’t enough,” Johnson said.

Both attorneys said a conference with the judge is needed. The first in a series of trials is scheduled for December.

Johnson said it’s likely they’ll ask the judge for one more round of settlement negotiations with a mediator who is specifically familiar with bankruptcy issues. Previously, Johnson said the Ursulines could consider filing for bankruptcy if the case went to trial.

Sherlock had postponed a July trial date to allow attorneys in the two lawsuits to hold talks. With no significant progress made, the judge could order further mediation or proceed with trials.

The Ursulines and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena are listed as defendants in two lawsuits filed by 362 people who say they were abused as children. Many of the claims are centered on sexual abuse that the plaintiffs say happened in the St. Ignatius school run by the Ursulines, or in St. Ignatius parish. The plaintiffs claim the Ursulines placed sexual predators in rural and remote locations and should have known that they would use their clerical cover to groom and sexually exploit their victims. The order has denied the allegations.

The diocese filed for bankruptcy as part of a proposed settlement with the plaintiffs. The Ursulines are not a part of that settlement.