A Roman Catholic diocese in Nova Scotia is selling off unused churches, buildings and land to pay for a settlement for victims of abuse that could reach $18.5 million.

Parishes within the Antigonish diocese have known since the summer that they would have to share the cost, but churchgoers only heard details this week.

Rev. Paul Abbass, spokesman for the diocese, said everything but essential assets are up for sale. Only the basic church building and rectory are protected.

"Everything else is considered to be non-core, so everything else is on the table," Abbass told CBC on Friday.

"It's a huge, huge sacrifice and a huge struggle for people and it's a lot of letting go," he said, "but we're doing the right thing."

Last summer, the diocese reached a $12.5-million settlement with people who claimed they were sexually abused by parish priests — some incidents dating back to the 1950s. That amount rose to $15 million once legal fees and other costs were factored in.

Abbass said the amount is now closer to $18 million or $18.5 million because of a separate lawsuit.

At first, church officials tried to come up with a formula to split the cost around the diocese, such as breaking it down by size or income of parish, but that didn't work.

"The reality is as we looked at the numbers … it became very clear that there is no way to have a formula and still meet the costs and not have the diocese and parishes be bankrupt," said Abbass, the priest at St. Mary's parish in Frenchvale.

The Saint Leonard parish in New Waterford could lose several of its buildings, said John Angione, chair of the parish council. Saint Leonard is a new parish, resulting from an amalgamation of five former parishes and one mission.

"There are five churches that are closed now, and any and all of those could go," said Angione.

Angione agrees it won't be easy for parishioners, particularly those whose ancestors helped pay for the old churches. He hopes the diocese consults with the parish before deciding what properties must go.

"It's going to be a very difficult situation, but we have to reach our goal," said Angione.

All of the contributions at Sunday mass will still be used solely for the operation of the church, he added.

The diocese of Antigonish covers all of Cape Breton and the three northeastern counties on mainland Nova Scotia.