The nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese said Friday it has agreed to pay $60 million to settle 45 lawsuits alleging sex abuse by priests.

The deal is the most significant step to date toward resolving extensive litigation against the archdiocese that has dragged on for years.

"I pray that the settlement of the initial group of cases will help the victims involved to move forward with their lives and to build a brighter future for themselves and their families," Cardinal Roger Mahony said in a news release.

Negotiations for the settlement of the uninsured cases have been in progress for at least a year.

Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiff's attorney, said the settlement involved 22 priests and was the largest settlement the Los Angeles archdiocese had reached "by far." He said more than $50 million would come from the archdiocese and about $8 million from religious orders.

"I wasn't certain we would ever get it done, but thankfully 45 very injured people will have a change to begin to heal, particularly at this time of the year," he said.

The Los Angeles archdiocese still faces more than 500 lawsuits from people who allege they were abused by about 200 priests and laypeople dating as far back as the 1930s.

The payout is the second-largest in California, behind the Diocese of Orange's 2004 agreement to spend $100 million to settle 90 abuse claims. It is also the fourth-largest in the nation since the clergy abuse crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002, according to an Associated Press review.

Sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests has cost the U.S. church at least $1.5 billion since 1950. Several American dioceses have reached multimillion-dollar settlements with victims in the last few years, as bishops have tried to resolve the crisis and move on.

Four dioceses — Tucson, Ariz.; Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore., and Davenport, Iowa — sought bankruptcy protection from a flood of lawsuits. Tucson has emerged from the process.

Settlement talks have been under way in the remaining California cases since 2002, when legislators passed a state law that suspended for one year the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims.

Nearly 1,000 people filed claims against the Roman Catholic Church in California under that law.