A court hearing was scheduled for Friday ahead of the first civil trials, which were to begin in March. Howard said she expected the court proceedings would be suspended.
The diocese's territory covers all or part of 23 counties in western Montana and employs about 200 people in its parishes, schools and social service programs. The diocese was created in 1884, five years before Montana became a state, and covered the entire state until the Diocese of Great Falls was formed in 1904, according to the Helena diocese's website.
Most clergy members who were accused in the lawsuits have died, and none remains in active ministry, diocese officials said.
In one of the lawsuits, the plaintiffs said they were repeatedly raped, fondled or forced to perform sex acts while at school, on the playground, on camping trips or at the victims' homes.
The second lawsuit, filed a week after the first in 2011, includes 95 of the 362 plaintiffs and contains similar allegations against priests, but also alleged that nuns at the Ursuline Academy in the town of St. Ignatius abused dozens of Native American children.
The Ursulines are not part of the proposed settlement, the diocese said.
Blaine Tamaki, the plaintiffs' attorney in that lawsuit, said the case against the Ursulines would move forward.
Tom Johnson, an attorney for the Ursulines, acknowledged the sides were still far apart in negotiations, but that the order intended to either settle or file for bankruptcy.
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