A judge has approved a $660 million settlement between more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, the landmark agreement follows four-and-a-half years of negotiations.

It is the largest payout by any U.S. Catholic diocese since the clergy abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002. As part of the settlement, Los Angeles church officials will release the personnel records of the accused priests, after a judge reviews them.

Some of the cases date back to the 1940s, and the agreement amounts to $1.3 million for each plaintiff. Lawyers will receive up to 40 percent of the settlement for their legal fees.

"Far more important than the money, though, is a critical term of this settlement, [which] provides for transparency, for sunshine, and for the release of the confidential files and personnel records of the priests that were involved in molesting so many children over the last five or so decades," said Ray Boucher, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, who heads the archdiocese, sat quietly through Monday's hearing. Sunday, he apologized to the victims.

"It should not have happened, and should not ever happen again," he said.

Some angry plaintiffs say the church agreed to a settlement only as the trial date was approaching. The first case was scheduled to start this week.

The cost of the settlement will be divided among the archdiocese, insurance companies and several Catholic religious orders. Cardinal Mahony says the archdiocese will sell some property, including its headquarters, but will not close parish churches or parochial schools.

Abuse cases around the United States have cost the Catholic Church more than $2 billion.