An official report published this week has revealed that members of the Portuguese Catholic Church, mostly priests, have sexually abused at least 4,815 children over the past 70 years.
An investigative commission, headed by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, has reported that most perpetrators (77%) were priests, and 57% of the victims were male.
The report indicates that most sexual abuses were inflicted on children aged 10 to 14, with the youngest victim being just two years old. The abuses occurred in various locations, including Catholic schools, churches, priests’ homes, and confessionals.
Strecht said that the cases report back to 1950 and represent the “absolute minimum” number of victims. “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
The commission has recommended that the Church should probe all alleged abuses under investigation and provide psychosocial support to victims.
Reverend José Ornelas, head of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, who attended report’s public presentation, told the press that the revelations were an “open wound that hurts and shames us.”
He stated that Portuguese bishops would meet, on March 3, to review the report and recommend “more efficient and appropriate mechanisms” to prevent future clergy abuses.
Describing child sexual abuse as a “heinous crime,” José Ornelas asked forgiveness from all the victims and praised “those who courageously gave their testimony, who were in silence for so many years, and those who still live with their pain in the depths of their hearts, without sharing it with anyone.”
Referring to Pope Francis’ guidelines in matters of clergy child abuse, he added that “abusers of minors cannot hold positions within the ministry as long as it is proven that the person is an abuser.”
Vatican envoy, Hans Zoller, responsible for child sexual abuse cases in the Church, who attended the report’s disclosure in Lisbon, said it was important to continue looking into the past and to listen to the victims “because this will not be the end of it.”
“There will be more victims who will come forward,” Zoller said, adding that the Bishops’ Conference is now responsible to informing Pope Francis about the report.
The Portuguese Catholic Church, which was shaken last year by the leak of alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse, was faced with an investigative commission involving over 100 Roman Catholic priests as potential perpetrators who still remain active in church roles. The commission has said it was preparing a list of the accused priests still working.
There are an estimated nine million baptised Catholics in Portugal (84% of the population) in twenty dioceses, served by 2,789 priests.
United States based support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has denounced that the Portuguese investigative commission has not gone far enough. It called on Portuguese Church officials to “prominently publish the name, photo, place of residence, and work history of abusive clergy.”
The Portuguese commission started its work in January 2022, after many reports of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy were exposed worldwide, namely in France where 3,000 clerics were accused of sexually abusing over 200,000 children.
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Portugal has had a strong historical and cultural connection to the Catholic Church. The majority of its population is Catholic. It is Portugal’s largest religion religion, and has existed in the territory since the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Roman Empire. 44 A.D. The Catholic Church has played a significant role in shaping Portugal’s society, politics, and traditions. The Church has also been involved in various social and charitable activities, including education, healthcare, and the relief of poverty. Like in many other countries, the Catholic Church in Portugal has been confronted with cases of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy and has been criticized for its handling of these cases, with some victims and advocacy groups alleging that the institution has not done enough to address the issue or hold abusers accountable. In recent years, the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference has acknowledged the need for greater transparency and accountability and has taken steps to implement child protection policies and procedures. However, cases of abuse and cover-ups continue to be reported, and the Catholic Church in Portugal, like in many other countries, faces ongoing scrutiny and criticism over its handling of sexual abuse allegations.