The final report of the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church in Portugal, releases validated testimonies relating to abuse cases that occurred between 1950 and 2022 and points to over 4,800 victims.
By Linda Bordoni
Reacting to the final report of the Independent Commission charged with investigating sexual abuse cases of minors in the Catholic Church in Portugal, the President of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP) said his first thought is for the victims, and the second for the commission towards whom the Church is grateful for its competent, passionate and humane work.
The Commission’s 8-point report points to a minimum number of 4815 victims in 70 years. The body was set up by the Portuguese Conference to examine abuse in recent decades.
Bishop Josè Ornelas said the results will not be ignored and launched a message of reassurance to the victims pledging to work for transparency and justice.
“We have heard things that we cannot ignore. It is a dramatic situation that we are living,” he said, “pointing out that that the Bishops’ Conference was not in denial about the consequences of the outcome.
He asked the victims for forgiveness and apologized for the Church having failed to grasp the scale of the problem.
Child sex abuse is a “heinous crime,” Ornelas said in a statement, adding: “It is an open wound which pains and embarrasses us.”
Present for the press conference at the Catholic University of Portugal, in Lisbon, was a number of Catholic experts and leaders, including Father Hanz Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Releasing the report at a press briefing, Commission coordinator and president, Pedro Strecht, said 512 testimonies have been validated, out of a total of 564 received, relating to cases that occurred between 1950 and 2022.
He explained that the testimonies, presented to the organization between January and October of last year, point to a “much more extensive” network of victims, calculated in a “minimum, very minimum number of 4815 victims”.
“It is not possible to quantify the total number of crimes”, Strecht said, given that some victims were abused several times.
However, he noted that it is important “not to confuse the part with the whole,” and said the number of abusers within the Church is “low”. “The percentage of its existence, as practiced by members of the Church,” Strecht explained, “is very small, on the reality of the subject of sexual abuse of minors in general”,
Work done with freedom
Strecht emphasized that the Portuguese Episcopal Conference “always supported” this work, and he thanked all the victims who “dared to give voice to silence”.
He spoke of work done with “freedom”, recognized as necessary by several of the testimonies.
A total of 25 cases have been passed to public prosecutors, many others fell outside the statute of limitations.
The alleged abusers who are still alive will be identified, and a list of their names will be sent to the Catholic Church and to Judicial authorities by the end of February.
The Independent Commission ceases the functions for which it was designated by the CEP.
Strecht said its members “reached the end of this long and also painful work with the feeling of accomplishment”, and stressed that “the pain of the truth hurts, but it sets you free”.
On March 3, in Fátima, an extraordinary plenary assembly of the CEP is scheduled to analyze the CI report.