The offer, to compensate more than 100 complainants, comes barely a week after Sean Patrick O'Malley was installed as archbishop of the Boston area.

It also highlights the Roman Catholic Church's desire to put an end to the damaging charges which sent shock waves right through to the Vatican and Pope John Paul.

“We are considering the offer,” Carmen Durso, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told AFP on Friday. “It's a promising first step. We will consider it but we're not there by any means.”

According to court documents, the archdiocese agreed to concessions that included waiving the statute of limitations on claims and waiving proof of negligence, which would have required accused priests still be alive for claims to be
considered, Reuters reported. 

“I think (O’Malley) should take all the credit. Since he's been installed, there's been an obvious change in attitude."

- lawyer Mitchell Garabedian

O'Malley, reputed to be one of the Church's top troubleshooters, said last month that protecting children was his top priority.

A recent investigation found that since 1940 the Boston Archdiocese, the Church's fourth-largest in the US, received some 789 complaints from parishioners alleging they had been the victims of sexual abuse by priests.

US firings

More than 400 Catholic clergymen accross the US have been fired in the past year after public criticism and a slew of legal complaints forced the Church to crack down on paedophile priests.

To compound the Church's woes, US TV network CBS last week revealed a confidential document alleging the Vatican deliberately covered up sexual abuse claims.

The document, written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, deals with what it calls the worst crime - “sexual assault committed by a priest”  - and calls on bishops to pursue such cases “in the most secretive way…restrained by a perpetual silence.”

The paper also threatens potential whistle blowers with excommunication.

Written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the policy even empowered the expulsion from the church of anyone who spoke out about sexual abuse

Larry Drivon, a lawyer who represents alleged victims of sexual abuse, called the document “a blueprint for deception.”

“Its an instruction manual on how to deceive and how to protect paedophiles,” Drivon said.

A spokesman for the US Conference of Bishops, Monseigneur Francis Maniscalco however said the text was being taken out of context and that it was meant to deal only with religious crimes and to shield church members from any scandal.