Boston The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, the epicenter for nearly two years of worldwide clerical-abuse scandal, broke new ground Tuesday with an $85 million settlement offer to 552 men and women who say they were molested by priests.
The agreement follows months of negotiations and must be ratified by 80 percent of the plaintiffs. It is the largest publicly disclosed settlement in the sex-abuse scandal that rocked the church all the way to the Vatican.
Victims will receive payouts ranging from $80,000 to $300,000. Individual awards will be determined by an independent mediator, based on the type and duration of abuse as well as injuries suffered.
Thomas Hannigan, a lawyer for the archdiocese, said he hoped financial restitution could be completed by Christmas.
But some who endured sexual abuse by men they trusted -- their parish priests -- said the significance extends beyond any dollar amount. The agreement brings vindication, victims said Tuesday, and a new measure of credibility.
"From this day forward, I am not an 'alleged' victim of clergy sexual abuse," said Gary Bergeron, who was molested as a boy by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, "I am recognized. I am a survivor."
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the agreement could lead to healing within the church.
"These were among the cases that precipitated 20 months of soul-searching by the church," he said. "We are visibly seeking to heal our wounds caused by sexual abuse."
In addition to financial compensation, the agreement guarantees that the Boston archdiocese will pay for psychological counseling for victims.