Burlington, Ky. -- A judge granted preliminary approval Tuesday to the nation's largest settlement in the church abuse scandal, authorizing a $120 million agreement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and hundreds of victims of child-molesting priests and other employees.
The decision by Judge John Potter makes immediately available $40 million from diocese assets. The victims and the diocese are suing two insurance companies for the remaining $80 million.
Potter's ruling allows the church and the plaintiffs' lawyers to begin advertising the settlement and sets a Nov. 10 deadline for claims to be filed.
The class-action suit was filed in 2003. It accuses the church of a 50-year cover-up of sexual abuse by priests and other employees.
The Covington fund is the largest agreement of its kind since the national abuse scandal erupted in the Boston archdiocese three years ago. In that time, at least $378 million has been spent on settlements with victims, legal fees, counseling and other expenses.
It was unclear how many people are part of the class action. The judge has ordered attorneys to determine the exact number of victims who will come forward.
Victims would receive awards ranging from $5,000 to $450,000, based on the severity of abuse. Those in the highest category would be eligible to apply to a special fund for extraordinary claims.
Sexual abuse by priests has cost the Catholic Church in the United States more than $1 billion since 1950, according to tallies by American bishops and an Associated Press review of known settlements conducted last month.
Among the major settlements: