GREAT FALLS, Mont. – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings filed bankruptcy Friday in a step toward settling 72 lawsuits over claims of child sex abuse by priests, nuns and lay workers from the 1950s through 1990s.

The law firm James, Vernon and Weeks, who is representing some the victims, said this automatically stays any further action in the lawsuits and paves the way for payment of claims through the bankruptcy court. The first cases were scheduled for trial in July.

Lawyers said the church uses bankruptcy laws that allows corporations to continue business after paying off their creditors to shed itself of child sexual abuse claims and continue to operate.

This is the 15th Diocesan bankruptcy in the United States, falling in the wake of the Diocese of Helena bankruptcy in 2015 and the Northwest Jesuit bankruptcy in 2012.