The Catholic Church in Boston, the starting-point of the child sex abuse scandal which spread across the United States, has agreed to pay $85m (£53m)to settle more than 500 lawsuits brought by people who accuse priests of molesting them. The payout will be the biggest known settlement in the crisis, which has led to numerous American dioceses settle for millions in the past two years. It also represents a significant victory for the alleged victims' lawyers, who only last month were offered a smaller $55m settlement by the Boston archdiocese.
"There's no way that you can possibly compensate people for what has been taken away from them," Roderick MacLeish, the lawyer for nearly half the accusers, told reporters yesterday.
"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."
The case of the Boston priest John Geoghan - sentenced to eight years in jail last January - prompted thousands of others to come forward in Boston and elsewhere, revealing that the church authorities had ignored or sought to silence accusations of abuse.
Geoghan was killed in jail this month, allegedly by a fellow inmate.
Last night's deal will give between $80,000 and $300,000 to 522 alleged victims, and $20,000 to some parents, dwarfing several previous settlements, including a $25.7m agreement with 243 people in Kentucky.
The Catholic authorities will also pay for counselling, and several of those who brought the cases will be appointed to church advisory boards, in some cases reviewing other complaints against priests.
The financial future of the church in Boston, one of the most strongly Catholic cities in the US, is almost certain to be dire, though it has never revealed its assets.
When the former archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law agreed a $30m settlement in the Geoghan case last year, a church council reduced the offer by two-thirds on the grounds that anything more than $10m could bankrupt the archdiocese.