The settlements push the total amount paid out by the US church since 1950 to more than $2bn, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, had been expected to testify about the church's response to abuses between the 1940s and 1990s had the case gone to trial.

Transparency

It was not immediately clear how the payout would be split among the insurers, the archdiocese and several Roman Catholic religious orders. A judge must sign off on the agreement.

The release of the priest documents was important to the agreement, Boucher said, because it could reveal whether archdiocesan leaders were involved in covering up for abusive priests.

"Transparency is a critical part of this and of all resolutions," he said.

"I was really emotionally ready to take on the archdiocese in court in less than 48 hours, but I'm glad all victims are going to be compensated"

Plaintiff Steven Sanchez

Plaintiff Steven Sanchez, who was expected to testify in the first trial, said he was simultaneously relieved and disappointed.

"I was really emotionally ready to take on the archdiocese in court in less than 48 hours, but I'm glad all victims are going to be compensated.

"I hope all victims will find some type of healing in this process."

Bankruptcy protection

Facing a flood of abuse claims, five dioceses - Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego - sought bankruptcy protection.

The Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders have paid more than $114m to settle 86 claims so far. The largest of those came in December, when the archdiocese reached a $60m settlement with 45 people whose claims dated from before the mid-1950s and after 1987 - periods when it had little or no sexual abuse insurance.

Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

However, more than 500 other lawsuits against the archdiocese had remained unresolved despite years of legal wrangling. Most of the outstanding lawsuits were generated by a 2002 state law that revoked for one year the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse.