The Archdiocese of Boston agreed today to pay $85 million to settle lawsuits filed by about 560 people who said they had been sexually abused by Catholic priests. It is the biggest publicly disclosed payout made by the church in relation to sex abuse scandals.

The agreement is a major advance in efforts to resolve a crisis that has torn the Boston Archdiocese, eroded church attendance and donations, and forced an overhaul in the archdiocese’s leadership.

A year ago, the Boston Archdiocese, which was hit the hardest of any American diocese by the abuse allegations, agreed to a $10 million settlement for 86 victims of former priest John J. Geoghan, who was ousted from the priesthood and sentenced to prison for child molestation. Mr. Geoghan was killed last month in prison; authorities say the suspect is another inmate.

The settlement comes six weeks after the installation of the current archbishop of Boston, Sean P. O’Malley, who had said that his first priority would be to settle with the victims of the abuse. Cardinal O’Malley had replaced Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned in December.

On Aug. 8, the archdiocese offered to settle the case for $55 million, which lawyers for the victims said was the first concrete offer the church had made to resolve the lawsuits. The victims’ lawyers responded with an undisclosed counteroffer.

The archdiocese’s previous lawyers had developed a contentious relationship with the plaintiffs’ lawyers, but Mr. Hannigan worked for Archbishop O’Malley a decade ago in settling sexual abuse claims against a priest in the Fall River Diocese south of Boston and had established good ties with Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer who represented most of the plaintiffs in that case and represents 260 plaintiffs in the current case.

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