Victims of child sex abuse “indignant, sad” over Catholic Church response

Portugal Resident [Lagoa, Portugal]

November 9, 2023

By Natasha Donn

Open Letter questions whether Church has changed at all

The Association of Victims of (child sexual) abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church has expressed “sadness, displeasure and indignation” at the way bishops have dealt with the scandal.

In a letter, dated November 2 but made public yesterday, Coração Silenciado (Silenced Heart) considers that, “nine months after the presentation of the report of the commission created (…) to study this issue, (…) very few actions or concrete measures have been taken”.

Using a recent text from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which expresses “deep sadness and unwavering solidarity, first and foremost, with the victims and survivors of so many despicable crimes committed in the Church”, Silenced Heart says it expects the bishops to “humbly and sincerely apologise”.

Regretting that in Portugal it was the media that brought the issue of child sexual abuse to the agenda, “to be treated with some dignity, respect and commitment”, the victims’ association emphasises that all abuse “involves the anguish and pain of a terrible betrayal, not only on the part of the perpetrator, but on the part of a Church unable or even unwilling to take into account the reality of its actions”.

In the letter, the association states that “the Portuguese Church lived in a system that allowed abuse and covered it up” and questions whether “the reality today is any different”.

“For months you have supported your discourse on the fact that the majority of complaints are anonymous and that you may be being ‘unfair’ in removing accused priests

But have you thought about all those who have managed to come forward and continue to see their abusers at work? Abusers who continue to work with children and young people? 

With this way of proceeding, there will be few who will continue to denounce it,” says the letter.

Accusing the Church of using the Statute of Limitations on criminal cases, Silenced Heart warns: “Suffering does not prescribe! It only increases!”

In the letter, Portugal’s bishops are also asked how many “have already met, in the style of Pope Francis, with the victims” of the dioceses and how many have already contacted the association, while the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference (CEP) is accused of not having yet formalised “any invitation to dialogue, to find out what the victims feel, what they need, what they expect from the Church in Portugal.

“We are people with faces, with stories, with families who have also become victims. How many of you have met with our families and asked them for forgiveness?” the association asks the bishops.

For Silenced Heart, the Church’s commitment to eradicating abuse “can’t just involve setting up the VITA Group (an exempt, autonomous and independent group that aims to welcome, listen to, accompany and prevent situations of sexual violence against children and vulnerable adults in the context of the Catholic Church in Portugal), receiving complaints, mediating and paying for consultations and training”.

“Even though the apologies may multiply, we will never know how sincere they are or whether they are just strategies to cover the issue up; while reparations and financial compensation are a public acknowledgement that they recognise each victim as such”.

These compensations would be “the materialisation of the truth that the Portuguese Church has so far failed to acknowledge,” says the letter.

The date of the letter commemorated the day on which the Church commemorates the Faithful Departed. It was used by the association to remember “all the deceased victims of abuse, especially those who ended their lives because of the weight of the abuse they suffered”.

At the beginning of November, the association announced that it will be submitting a request for compensation to the State, through a petition to parliament, before the end of this year.

Speaking to Lusa, Cristina Amaral, one of the leaders of Coração Silenciado, emphasised that “there is a duty of protection on the part of the State” and that the intention is to “sensitise politicians” to the situation of Portugal’s multiple victims. 

At the same time, there are already at least four requests for compensation from the Portuguese Catholic Church, submitted through the VITA Group and diocesan commissions, she reminded. 

Says Lusa, Cristina Amaral was also a victim of sexual abuse in a Catholic institution between the ages of 5 and 9.

Meantime, the leader of the VITA Group, psychologist Rute Agulhas, has said the Catholic Church “is reflecting on how to respond to possible reparations” for the four victims that have already made their own requests.

Last year, bishops were adamant that there would be no financial reparations. This stance was so overwhelmingly condemned that the bishops were forced to backtrack.

Adds Lusa, the VITA Group came about following the work of the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church, led by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, which, over the course of almost a year, validated 512 testimonies of cases that occurred between 1950 and 2022, pointing, by extrapolation, to a minimum number of 4,815 victims in Portugal over the last 70 years.

Source: LUSA