The Boston Archdiocese has offered $55m (€48.5m) to settle more than 500 clergy sex abuse lawsuits, according to documents and sources familiar with the talks.
The offer came just a week after Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley was installed as head of the US’s fourth-largest diocese.
The settlement would resolve claims from men and women who said they were abused as children by clergy within the Boston archdiocese while church leaders routinely ignored the misdeeds.
A recent report from the Massachusetts attorney general estimated that more than 1,000 children were abused over four decades.
The Rev Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, said there was an agreement to not discuss negotiations publicly.
Lawyer Jeffrey Newman, whose firm represents more than 200 of the alleged victims, called the offer “a significant showing of good faith by the archbishop”, but said it was far from a done deal. “We think it’s a very good start, but it’s only a start.”
Each complainant has 30 days to accept the offer, according to reports. The settlement would only become effective if at least 95% of the claimants accept it.
The crisis, which first broke in early 2002, forced Cardinal Bernard Law to step down as archbishop last December, apologising for the church’s failure to protect children and punish priests.
Bishop Richard Lennon, who was appointed as a temporary archdiocese administrator, consistently said that a settlement was a priority, but he also had difficulties reaching a deal as the two sides fought in the courts and in the press.
In February, lawyers for the archdiocese and the alleged victims agreed to suspend action on about 400 cases for 90 days amid hopes that negotiations would yield a settlement. A lawyer representing plaintiffs in many of the remaining cases would not agree to the moratorium
With O’Malley’s appointment, hope of a settlement was renewed because the 59-year-old Franciscan friar had successfully negotiated a settlement with victims of another scandal in the early 1990s.