Report details child sexual abuse in Portuguese Church

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

February 15, 2023

By Patrick Hudson

The independent commission said that over 100 priests suspected of abuse are still active in the Church.

An independent commission has published a report on child sexual abuse in the Portuguese Church, detailing cases from the 1950s up to last year.

Speaking as the report was issued on Monday, the president of the commission, Pedro Stecht, said that it had validated 512 of 564 accounts of abuse presented to it between January and October last year, which indicated a “much more extensive” number of victims.

From this data, the commission had calculated a figure of 4,815 victims at the “very minimum”, he said.

“It is not possible to quantify the total number of victims.”

The president of the Portuguese bishops’ conference, Bishop Josè Ornelas of Leira-Fátima, promised that the Church would act on the findings.

“We have heard things we cannot ignore. It is a dramatic situation we are living,” he said.

In a statement, he condemned the “heinous crime” of child sex abuse, calling it “an open wound which pains and shames us”.

“We ask forgiveness from all the victims: those who courageously gave their testimony, silent for so many years, and those who still live with their pain in the depths of their heart, without sharing it with anyone.”

According to CNA, the 400-page report recorded that most of the abuse (58.3 per cent of cases) occurred between 1960 and 1990, and that in most instances (57.2 per cent) the abuse was repeated.

In 27.5 per cent of cases, it continued for more than a year.

Just over half of the victims were male, and most were aged 10-14 when the abuse took place.

The vast majority of abusers identified were priests (77 per cent). Speaking after the publication, Mr Strecht said that more than 100 priests still active in the Church were suspected of abuse.

He confirmed that the commission was compiling a list of suspects to present to the Church and the public prosecutor’s office. It has already passed 25 cases of abuse to the authorities, but many others fall outside Portugal’s statute of limitations.

The prime minister, Antonio Costa, said that the revelations “shocked society as a whole” and that government ministers and officials would meet commission members.

Mr Strecht, a child psychiatrist, said that the Church had “always supported” the commission’s work, but now had “a moral and ethical duty to collaborate with judicial authorities”.

He said that the commission’s members “reached the end of this long and painful work with a feeling of accomplishment”, adding: “the pain of the truth hurts, but it sets you free”.

The Portuguese bishops will meet in Fátima on 3 February to analyse the report.