updated 6/3/2005 5:32:55 PM ET 2005-06-03T21:32:55

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington agreed Friday to set up a $120 million fund to compensate victims of child-molesting priests and other employees. It would be the nation’s biggest settlement in the scandal that has staggered the church.

The settlement, which is subject to approval by a Kentucky judge, would bring to a close a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 100 alleged victims. It accuses the diocese of a 50-year cover-up of sexual abuse by priests and others.

“After personally meeting with more than 70 victims, I am painfully aware that no amount of money can compensate for the harm these victims suffered as innocent children,” Covington Bishop Roger Foys said in a statement. “Nevertheless, I pray that this settlement will bring some measure of peace and healing to victims and their loved ones.”

Up to $450,000 per person
Victims will be grouped into four categories based on the severity of abuse, and compensation will range from $5,000 to $450,000 per person, before attorney fees are deducted.

“The additional anxiety and stress that would have occurred to the victims had there been a trial has been eliminated,” said Stan Chesley, the plaintiffs’ chief attorney.

Last year, the Orange County, Calif., Diocese agreed to a settlement that participants said would pay $100 million to 87 victims. In 2003, the Boston Archdiocese, where the scandal first erupted, settled with 552 victims for $85 million.

Covington is far smaller than Boston, the nation’s fourth-largest diocese with about 2.1 million parishioners. The Covington Diocese spans 14 counties and has 89,000 parishioners. The lawsuit also covers some Kentucky counties that were part of the Covington Diocese until 1988, when a new diocese in Lexington formed.

158 allegations against 30 priests
The diocese has said it has received 158 allegations of sexual misconduct against about 30 of 372 priests since 1950.

In a statement, the diocese and plaintiffs’ attorneys said that $40 million of the settlement fund would come from a combination of church real estate and investments and $80 million would come from insurance.

In addition to the dioceses that have reached major settlements, three — in Tucson, Ariz., Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash. — have filed bankruptcy claims because of abuse allegations.

The Covington case was granted class-action status in 2003 and had been scheduled for trial earlier this year but was repeatedly postponed while a mediator held settlement talks.

With the lawsuit pending, the Covington Diocese settled some other claims. It recently said it would move its offices to a medical center to cut costs, and earlier it announced some layoffs.

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