updated 3/6/2004 12:19:32 PM ET 2004-03-06T17:19:32

The Archdiocese of Boston has sued one of its insurers for refusing to cover millions of dollars in payments to victims of clergy sex abuse, even as the archdiocese is being forced to close churches because of financial struggles.

Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co. claims that the church’s $85 million settlement with 522 victims of clergy abuse was a voluntary payment and that the company was not obligated to contribute, The Boston Globe reported in Saturday’s editions.

The archdiocese said that $59.3 million of the abuse settlement relates to periods when Lumbermens was the church’s sole insurer. Another $7.7 million dates from when the coverage overlapped with another insurer, according to the lawsuit filed Friday.

A spokeswoman for Kemper Insurance Cos. group, which is the lead underwriter for Lumbermens, did not immediately return a call for comment Saturday.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley was expected to announce plans Saturday to close an unspecified number of churches, in part because of financial trouble following the abuse scandal.

The lawsuit alleges fraud and breach of contract and asks a judge to rule that Lumbermens had a duty to defend and indemnify the archdiocese for sexual abuse claims between 1964 and March 31, 1983, with no limit on the total that could be paid out.

“Largely as a result of (Lumbermens’) denial of coverage, the RCAB (Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston) was forced to borrow money to fund the settlement and to offer certain valuable property for sale,” according to the lawsuit.

The church abuse scandal started two years ago with revelations about a predatory priest in the Archdiocese of Boston. It spread to every American diocese, with thousands of abuse claims across the country.

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