A Roman Catholic organization has agreed to pay millions of dollars in compensation to victims of sexual abuse in Quebec.

The Congregation of Holy Cross has reached an out of court settlement, two years after victims launched a class action lawsuit.

The abuse happened to students in three Quebec schools over several decades.

The congregation says it will issue an official apology and pay up to $18 million in compensation to victims. It is believed to be the highest payout ever by a religious order in Canada.

Jean-Pierre Aumont, the Provincial Superior of the congregation, said he is "truly pained" by the crimes committed and the suffering they caused.

The money will serve as compensation for abuse that occurred between 1950 and 2001 at Montreal's Collège Notre-Dame and at schools in Saint-Césaire and Pohénégamook.

Victims are each expected to receive between $10,000 and a $250,000.

"Actually, it's a better settlement than we could have hoped for," said lawyer Gilles Gareau, who is representing the victims in the class action suit.

One of those victims, René Cornellier, denounced the abuse to management at Collège Notre-Dame nearly two decades ago, but died a year later. His brother, Robert Cornellier, said Thursday the settlement brings some closure for his family.

"When he died, one of the brothers said he was kind of happy, because the story is finished. Today I can say the story just finished."

Lawyers in the class action case say about 85 victims have come forward so far and expect more will do so in the coming weeks.

The settlement does not affect the ongoing police investigation into the abuse. So far, no charges have been laid.

With files from The Canadian Press