The proposed deal, reached after secret weekend talks involving Archbishop Sean O'Malley, would mark the largest single payout by a US Catholic diocese to settle civil litigation, church experts said.

Lawyers for more than 540 alleged victims said they had reached an understanding with the church calling for each claimant to receive between $80,000 and $300,000, depending on the degree of abuse suffered.

Controversy

The church also agreed to offer victims continued mental and spiritual counselling.

But lawyers warned the proposed agreement was not yet assured. More than 80% of claimants must agree to the proposed settlement's terms before it can be implemented.

The settlement may finally dampen a growing scandal in the Catholic church in recent years over sexual abuse by priests - and the Vatican's attempts to avoid controversy with a policy of silence.

As public outrage grew, Pope John Paul II was forced to issue apologies for sexual abuse by Catholics priests worldwide in 2001 and 2002.

Painful journey

Gary Bergeron, one of the hundreds of plaintiffs, called the proposed deal the end of a "painful journey." He said no amount of money would take away his suffering, but that the agreement nonetheless represented a huge symbolic victory.

"From this day forward, I’m not an alleged victim of clergy abuse. I’m recognised, I am a survivor," he said in Boston after lawyers announced the proposed settlement.

"From this day forward, I’m not an alleged victim of clergy abuse. I’m recognised, I am a survivor"

Gary Bergeron, 
plaintiff

Mitchell Garabedian, one of the lawyers who hammered out the deal, said he expects some plaintiffs to balk at the terms. But another lawyer, William Gordon, said "an overwhelming majority" would probably accept the deal.

The archdiocese also said it was confident most claimants would accept the offer, which was $30 million above its initial offer of $55 million last month.

Scandals

The agreement caps a crisis over paedophile priests that erupted more than one and a half years ago in the Archdiocese of Boston. Similar scandals later came to light in dioceses around the world, prompting deep discontent and disgust among rank-and-file Catholics.

The scandal in Boston began when it became known that former leaders of the archdiocese, including Cardinal Bernard Law, let known paedophiles continue working as priests, or moved them from church to church without informing parishioners.

Law resigned in December after dozens of his own priests publicly called on him to step down, but the effects of the scandal still linger.

Law's successor, O'Malley, vowed to settle the hundreds of lawsuits facing the church when he took the reins of the troubled archdiocese in July.