Expulsion of priests accused of child sex abuse ‘requires proof’ – bishop

Portugal Resident [Lagoa, Portugal]

February 15, 2023

By Natasha Donn

Commission’s report points to more than 100 abusers still working as priests

As the nation digests the full horror paraded yesterday of 72 years of sexual deviance within the Portuguese Catholic Church, the one positive emerging has been the belief that the institution now will be ‘better’.

The Church has not only apologised profusely to all victims, it has pledged to taking concrete and concerted steps to ensure abuse on the scale laid out by the independent commission of inquiry cannot be able to happen again.

As one leader writer put it, the Church has to be praised for supporting this ‘moral apocalypse’. In spite of the shame and disgust that revelations have heaped on the institution, it was the Church that requested this independent inquiry, and it was the Church that throughout supported its various requests.

But there are still huge questions: not least how to deal with the 100-plus priests in communities whose names appear in the annex (of abusers) that has not been made public.

President of the Portuguese Bishop’s Conference, bishop José Ornelas, laid out the conundrum at the press conference he gave yesterday, in which he repeatedly apologised in the name of the Portuguese Church.

“What the Pope says – and this is also very clear to us – abusers of minors cannot have positions within the ministry (…) That is very clear. As long as it is proven that the person is an abuser, he has no place.”

‘As long as it is proven’ – this is the unknown quantity: how to ‘prove’ if there is no ‘evidence’; if the victim remains desperate for anonymity; if there were no witnessesif the alleged abuser denies the abuse ever happened?

Lusa news agency admits: “The CEP president was not clear about what will happen to clerics or other members of the church who are suspected of abuse, and whose names may appear on the list that the commission has said it will pass on”. 

The bishop refuses any “witch-hunt” process, says the State news agency – suggesting alleged abusers will not be ‘suspended pending internal inquiries’.

Bishop Ornelas also explained that investigations into allegations in the Portuguese church will require investigations by the relevant bishop of the diocese, who “in case of plausibility” of the accusations will refer the process to the Vatican, which would then decide.

“We don’t have a list yet, but we will receive it and deal with it properly,” he said.

The bishop also stressed that, as for public prosecutors, the principle underlying the handling of a case in the Church is that confidentiality is maintained “as a basis, so that things are not handled in the street, but are handled with dignity for all.”

As for the conclusion of the process, once it reaches the Vatican, he said that “it takes time, but it’s not that long, either.”

In other words, there is no certainty that alleged abusers will be removed from their posts – and this is one of the first hurdles in the construction of a better Church.

As for the rest, the commission’s report is to be ‘analysed’ at an an extraordinary plenary assembly of the Portuguese Catholic Bishops’ Conference on March 3 – at which point any number of pledges/ decisions may be made.

The independent commission has left a series of recommendations to the Church as to how to move forwards from this desperate day of reckoning, and none include any kind of compensation for victims (as some sectors of society have suggested should happen).

The commission’s full report can be read in English here.