Portuguese abuse commission begins work investigating ‘deep pain and suffering’

Crux [Denver CO]

January 18, 2022

By Inés San Martín

A week into the year-long independent anti-abuse commission convened by the Catholic Church in Portugal, 102 allegations had been made.

In a statement released to the Lusa Portuguese news agency, child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, the coordinator of the independent abuse commission, said that the 102 testimonies received thus far, contain “moments of deep pain and suffering.”

The testimonies were received either online or via phone call.

The Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church is collecting complaints from victims of cases that have occurred since 1950, which may be referred to the police. 

According to the coordinator, there are statements from people aged between 30 and 80, “all abused as children.” The commission has already set up face-to-face meetings with those who provided testimony.

Although it has received testimony from all over the country, as well as people who have emigrated, the commission says that “there seems to be a predominance of records in the north and interior zones of continental Portugal.”

“The stories of abuse and trauma heard and/or recorded contain moments of deep pain and suffering and, of course, decades of silencing of each person, all of whom deserve our deep empathy and respect,” said Strecht. 

The aim of the commission is to “shed light as best as possible on everything that may have happened in Portugal – a country where 80 percent of the population declares itself Catholic,” Strecht said.

The commission is collecting testimony and reports from people who have suffered abuse as minors in Church settings, either by priests, religious or lay people such as school teachers. The work of this independent commission will run until December 31, in a physical space “autonomous” from the Church.

The Portuguese bishops conference announced the initiative late last year, following a similar effort by the French bishops. An independent commission in France revealed that 330,000 minors had been abused in the last 70 years. The Catholic Church  of Switzerland announced in December that they would open their archives to a commission headed by two researchers from the University of Zurich.

The Portuguese commission’s action plan will focus on testimony collected through a telephone line, a website and via email – with guaranteed anonymity – but also on cases reported in the media and by social services and medical institutions. The archives of the Catholic Church in Portugal will also be consulted, for which the collaboration of the various dioceses will be necessary.

Sociologist Ana Nunes de Almeida, a member of the Commission, explained that they will try to have a “notion” of the cases that have occurred in the last seven decades, although she admitted that it is “very difficult” and that “the numbers say little about the abuse” suffered by minors and the impact it has in their lives.

The findings will be reflected in a study preliminary titled “Giving Voice to Silence.”

Bishop José Ornelas, head of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, said in December when the website and phone line were launched that he wanted the committee to work “without prejudice or cover-ups” to “illuminate these painful situations with the light of justice and truth.”

The committee, which will report to the Bishops’ Conference, complements 21 local groups across the country assessing child sex abuse cases. These local groups  are made up largely of lay people, including lawyers, psychologists and psychiatrists. The local groups were set up following a 2019 summit of the presidents of bishops’ conferences summoned by Pope Francis in Rome to discuss clerical sexual abuse in the Church.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma