Portugal investigates thousands of cases of child abuse in the Catholic Church
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At least 4,815 children have been sexually abused by members of the Portuguese Catholic Church, mostly priests, over the past 70 years, according to a commission of inquiry report released on Monday.
< br /> Child abuse found in the Portuguese Catholic Church is the “tip of the iceberg,” according to the commission's report.
“We want to pay tribute to those who were abused as children and dared to break their silence. There are many more victims than statistics show, ",— said child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, who heads the commission.
“4,815 cases — this is the lowest number of victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy in Portugal since 1950. These numbers — just the tip of the iceberg, — Strecht said.
Most of the perpetrators (77%) were priests and 57% of the victims were boys, Strecht said, adding that they were abused in Catholic schools, churches, priests' houses, confessionals and other places.
The harassment took place when the children were 10-14 years old and the youngest victim was only two years old.
José Ornelas, head of the Bishops' Conference, attended the presentation of the final report and said at a press conference later on Monday that the revelations have become "an open wound that brings us pain and shame".
Ornelas said the Portuguese bishops would meet on March 3 and consider introducing “more efficient and appropriate arrangements” to prevent future abuse.
Among other recommendations, the commission stated that the church should condemn all alleged abuse, provide psychosocial support to the victims, and continue to investigate the matter.
Hans Zoller, the Vatican official in charge of child sexual abuse cases, also attended the event in Lisbon. He said it was important to “keep listening to the victims, because this is not the end.”
Zoller added that the Bishops' Conference is now responsible for informing Pope Francis of the report.
The Portuguese Catholic Church was shocked last year by cases of alleged cover-ups of sexual harassment, including by bishops who continue to actively carry out church functions. The commission said it was preparing a list of accused priests who still serve in the church.
Ornelas is being investigated by prosecutors for covering up sexual abuse at a shelter in Mozambique in 2011. He denies any wrongdoing.
The Portuguese commission began its work in January 2022 after a report in France showed that some 3,000 priests and religious figures sexually abused more than 200,000 children.
Allegations of abuse came from people from all walks of life, from all regions of the country, as well as from Portuguese citizens living in other countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas.
The Commission interviewed more than 500 victims, analyzed historical church documents and interviewed bishops and other members of the clergy.
A total of 25 testimonies heard by the commission were sent to the prosecutor's office for investigation, since all the rest were made more than 20 years ago and the criminal prosecution is no longer may be filed.
The Commission stated that the law should be changed to allow prosecution of historical crimes committed 30 years ago.
The Commission, which states that it is independent, funded by the Catholic Church. In December 2021, Strecht said that if the church tried to interfere with the investigation, he would be the first to come out and condemn it.
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