The move is part of the Catholic Church’s bankruptcy reorganization plan

The Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon plans to release to the public internal documents about church personnel accused of child abuse over the last 50 years as part of its recently approved bankruptcy settlement, church officials and lawyers for sex abuse claimants announced Tuesday.

On Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris confirmed the Oregon Catholic Church’s proposed Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan, which was filed in 2004 after a wave of child sex abuse claims filed against priests and other church employees. That agreement calls for the court to approve about $50 million in settlements and to establish a fund for future payouts of about $20 million.

Tuesday’s announcement went a step further, approving the release of what claimants’ lawyers say are previously secret documents detailing accused pedophile priests’ activities. Initial releases will comprise "several dozen" documents on fewer than 12 priests, lawyers said, but in the future could become a "virtually comprehensive release of the archives of the past."

The documents are scheduled to be released in May.

"Now, for the first time, we have reached an historic agreement with the Archbishop, his lawyers, and representatives of the parishes that will lead to the release of significant historic documents and files concerning child abuse over the last half-century in this Church, secret archives of secret crimes and secret shame will be made public for the community to see and understand," said attorney Kelly Clark in a statement Tuesday.

Clark has represented victims of alleged church sex abuse for 15 years. Kelly and other victims’ attorneys praised the announcement, made at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland Tuesday afternoon.

"We are especially pleased by Archbishop Vlazny’s decision to renounce the secrecy and protectiveness of the past and agree to the public release of a substantial portion of the personnel records of offending priests," said attorney David Slader, who also represents abuse claimants. "A policy of openness and transparency will go far toward preventing future tragedies."

In December 2006, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan announced that more than 150 people who said they were sexually abused by Oregon priests had settled their civil lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Portland, a development that paved the way for last week’s approved bankruptcy reorganization plan and Tuesday’s records announcement.

"It is my sincere prayer that our ability to compensate the many victims will assist them in their efforts to achieve personal healing and peace of heart," Archbishop John Vlazny said at Tuesday’s news conference. "As we Catholics throughout this scandal have learned much about child abuse, it is my sincere desire that these lessons will not have to be repeated in any other forum."

Frank Lenzi of AM 860 KPAM contributed to this report