A Catholic religious order in the United States has agreed to pay more than $160m to hundreds of victims of sexual abuse between the 1940 and 1990s.
The payout by the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province - part of an agreement to resolve its two-year-old bankruptcy case - marks one of the biggest settlements to date in the Church's sexual abuse scandals.
Lawyers for the victims said it also is the largest ever by a Catholic religious order such as the Jesuits.
The Oregon Province is the Northwest chapter of the Rome-based Jesuit order and covers Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.
The victims, most of them Native Americans from remote Alaska Native villages or Indian reservations in the Pacific Northwest, were sexually or psychologically abused as children by Jesuit missionaries in those states in the 1940s through the 1990s, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.
‘No amount of money can bring back a lost childhood, a destroyed culture or a shattered faith,’ lawyer Blaine Tamaki, who represents about 90 victims in the settlement, said in a statement.
‘This settlement recognizes that the Jesuits betrayed the trust of hundreds of young children in their care,’ Tamaki said. ‘These religious figures should have been responsible for protecting children, but instead raped and molested them.’
The Jesuits' Oregon Province said the $166.1m (€118m) would be paid into a trust to ‘resolve approximately 524 abuse claims in a five-state area.’
Rebecca Rhoades, another attorney for victims of Jesuit abuse in the Northwest, said settlement negotiations began in earnest in October 2010 and were concluded this week.
She said the settlement, which has been approved by all parties, will be filed with the US Bankruptcy Court in Portland, Oregon, on 29 March.
The Jesuits filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2009 as litigation over sexual abuse claims was mounting.