USA

Details of a long-awaited settlement with a southern California diocese over sex-abuse allegations against clergy were unsealed by a judge in Los Angeles on Monday. The record $100 million settlement resolves 90 lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. The settlement was reached Dec. 2, but was under a court seal as the parties signed off on it. It surpasses the $85 million the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay 552 plaintiffs in 2002.

The House and Senate opened the 109th session of Congress Tuesday with the swearing-in of new members. Republicans picked up four seats in the Senate in the Nov. 2 election, to reach 55, and will command 232 of the 435 House seats, an increase of three. Leery of a bruising floor fight, House Republicans decided to step back from plans to significantly relax ethics rules that ensnared Majority Leader Tom DeLay. (Related editorial, page 8.)

Officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday celebrated the first anniversary of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. The robots, which continue to collect data, were expected to be operational for only about three months. Together, they have traveled more than 3 1/2 miles, transmitted 62,000 images to Earth, and discovered rocks that suggest ancient water activity.

California, once a national leader in public education, was handed a disappointing report card Monday. Students in the state rank among the lowest in the nation for academic achievement, across all racial groups, according to a RAND Corp. study. Funding cuts and changes in how the state pays for schools, dating to the 1970s, are cited as factors contributing to the decline.

Oklahoma taxpayers spent almost $4.2 million to provide a defense for bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, who was convicted of 161 first-degree murder counts in the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people. Until Monday, details of the expenditures had been sealed by court order.

The FBI has found no evidence that recent incidents involving laser beams aimed at aircraft are linked to terrorism, CNN reported Monday. Whether the isolated incidents are pranks or criminal conduct is undetermined at this point.

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