The Boston Archdiocese has agreed to pay $85m (€76m) to settle more than 550 court claims from people who allege Roman Catholic priests abused them, a leading lawyer in the cases said.
It is the largest known payout by an American diocese to settle sex abuse charges.
The deal, finalised after months of negotiations, marks a major step towards ending the crisis that has torn at the fabric of America’s fourth-largest archdiocese for nearly two years and spread throughout the country and beyond.
Under the agreement, victims will receive awards ranging from €71,000 to €191,000, said lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr, whose firm represents nearly half of the alleged victims. Amounts will be decided by a mediator, based on the type of abuse, the duration and the injury suffered.
Parents who claimed their children were abused will receive €17,000.
“The deal has been signed. The deal has been done,” Marcia Brier, a spokeswoman for MacLeish’s firm, called out to reporters at Suffolk Superior Court.
Many of the final details of the deal were worked out during a closed-door meeting on Sunday night among lawyers and attended by Archbishop Sean O’Malley that went into early Monday morning.
“There’s no way that you can possibly compensate people for what has been taken away from them. But this, for some, will be recognition by the archdiocese that terrible, horrific mistakes were made by church leadership, and this is a form of repentance by the church,” Mr MacLeish said.
A resolution had been elusive since the scandal exploded in January 2002 with the release of court documents in the case of the Rev John Geoghan, who church leaders moved from parish to parish despite evidence he had molested children.
Allegations against dozens of other priests soon came to light, and hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese.
Priest personnel files, made public because of the Boston lawsuits, held sordid and shocking allegations: that a priest pulled boys out of religious classes and raped them in a confessional; that another fathered two children and left the children’s mother alone as she overdosed; that another seduced girls studying to become nuns by telling them he was “the second coming of Christ”.
Because of the abuse claims, at least 325 of America’s 46,000 priests were removed from duty or resigned in the year following the Geoghan case. Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Boston archbishop in December, giving up his post as spiritual leader to 2.1 million Catholics because of his mishandling of abuse cases.
The appointment of O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar known for helping other dioceses recover from sex abuse scandals, brought new hope in July.
In September 2002, the Boston Archdiocese agreed to a $10m (€9m) settlement for 86 victims of Geoghan, who was ousted from the priesthood and sentenced to prison for child abuse. Geoghan, 68, was killed last month in prison, allegedly by another inmate who authorities say plotted the attack for more than a month.