The Rimont [Rimont, FR]
May 11, 2022
Pedro Strecht, President of the Commission of Inquiry into Pederasty in the Portuguese Church, and José Ornelas, President of the Episcopal Conference in Lisbon.Joao Henriquez
The Church of Portugal has apologized for the sexual abuse of minors. He did so Tuesday afternoon at a scientific forum organized in Lisbon by an independent commission of inquiry into pederasty, according to Bishop José Ornelas of Leiria Fatima, who chairs the Portuguese Episcopal Conference. “I want to once again appeal to the victims with a request for forgiveness for suffering and convey gratitude to those who dared to condemn. The tragic situation of the current war shows that a person is capable of the greatest barbarism, ”he argued.
In front of an audience that also included Hans Zollner, one of the experts appointed by Pope Francis to combat pederasty in the Church, and the presidents of the revision chambers of Spain and Germany, lawyers Javier Cremades and Martin Pusch, the bishop reflected on the impact of child abuse and the objectives of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference with the establishment of a commission of inquiry: “These attacks are especially serious, they affect the entire system of attachments and values and cause traumas that drag on for a lifetime. Our project is to illuminate and clarify.”
In parallel with the independent investigation, Ornelas defended the work of diocesan commissions to develop prevention and education strategies to prevent a recurrence of cases. Although he added: “We understood that they did not work for the victims, so the independence of the investigation was important.” The Bishop wanted to make it clear that “the establishment of this commission stems from the Catholic Church’s awareness of the seriousness of this phenomenon, of which mankind has become more aware in recent decades.”
The tip of the iceberg
The psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, who heads the Portuguese commission, praised the “courage” of the Portuguese church for establishing an independent commission and opening up the archives of the dioceses. Strecht said they have received 326 statements from victims since they started earlier this year, and that they are still dominated by “fear, shame and guilt.” “In more than half of the cases, people indicate that there are more victims. This is always the tip of the iceberg, we see a reality that arises on top of another, for which we begin to have probable data, ”he said.
The scientific forum organized by the Portuguese Commission made it possible to declare the strong institutional support it has. The presence of the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Souza, was scheduled for the program, which was eventually put on hold due to personal urgency, although he sent a message of support. His support is especially symbolic for the head of state, who is Catholic and has made controversial decisions in the past, such as vetoing a euthanasia law on two occasions that some politicians saw as influenced by their religious beliefs.
Hans Zollner, a Jesuit psychologist and member of a group created by Pope Francis to combat pederasty in the church, spoke at a conference organized in Lisbon under the slogan “Sexual abuse of minors: knowing the past, caring for the future”. At the press conference, Zollner defended a change in culture that encourages covering up abuses rather than admitting wrongdoing. “This is true for all institutions, and also for the Catholic Church. In all countries, the same mechanisms for protecting institutions are repeated at the cost of human suffering, denial of reality, or negligence in dealing with failures. This is what saddens me the most and prevents me from rationally understanding why it is difficult for us to accept the truth,” he explained at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, where the conference was held. “Any leader makes mistakes, the problem is that people can forgive if you admit a mistake, but if you don’t, people won’t trust you anymore. If we believe in forgiving people, why can’t we believe in forgiving institutions?
Javier Cremades, President of the Commission of Inquiry into Sexual Harassment at the Spanish Church, speaks with Hans Zollner in Lisbon. Joao Henriquish
In addition to finding out what happened, making amends to the victims, and holding accountable, Zollner stressed the need to change the context that allows cases of pederasty and other forms of abuse of power in church institutions such as seminaries, schools, or dioceses. “The system is the same in Malawi, Mexico, Portugal or Myanmar,” he stressed. “It’s not just about research, it’s about changing culture,” he added.
In his speech, the president of the Spanish commission, Javier Cremades, explained that they were operating “in a sea of distrust” after years of silence. “This is a task that touches the very foundations of society, and it will not end here because the abuse of power and sexual violence will not stop, but I think that perhaps other institutions can do the same and learn from the Catholic Church when they do, this work,” he explained. The lawyer said they found that some religious orders had reached out-of-court settlements with victims, a path he advised against because it encourages “re-victimization” of victims.