This week the North American branch of the Christian Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of ever mounting sexual abuse claims made against its U.S. and Canadian members.

The order runs schools around the world (and are well known in Ireland, where they have also faced widespread physical and sexual abuse charges).

The bankruptcy filing was made in New York where the brothers' North American chapter is headquartered, but it's understood the majority of the abuse claims come from the Seattle, Washington area according to Michael Patterson, a lawyer for the Catholic Archdiocese in Seattle.

"It's a sad day. We're very disappointed that it reached this level," Patterson told the Irish Times.

"We had hoped that we could have partnered with the Christian Brothers to settle claims. What this means is that victims now have to deal with this out of bankruptcy court." Patterson added that he did not know the extent of the claims.

However lawyers for the plaintiffs said Christian Brothers sexually abused scores of children in the United States and Canada.

Seattle based attorney Michael Pfau told the Irish Times he has settled more than 50 abuse cases for a total of $25.6 million, which was paid to the victims in the last five years by the order and by the Seattle Archdiocese.

Around 35 of those cases reportedly originated in the now closed Briscoe Memorial School, an orphanage and boarding school run by both the archdiocese and Christian Brothers in Kent, Washington.

"There were rapes, molestations and beatings. The brothers carried long leather straps. It was a very abusive place," Pfau said.

Other lawsuits still pending involve allegations of sexual abuse at schools and orphanages that the Brothers owned and operated in Washington state and Canada, Pfau said, adding that he believed the order had filed for bankruptcy in a bid to shield its assets in Rome.

"They made money taking over the care of children but put many of their members who were known abusers in charge of them," Pfau said. "Then they tried to cover it up. This bankruptcy filing is just another effort for them to avoid responsibility."

Last year, the Irish branch of the Christian Brothers was strongly criticized by the Irish government for the widespread physical and sexual abuse of children in schools and other institutions run by the order.