Over the past seven years, more than 4,800 children have been sexually abused within the Catholic Church in Portugal, according to a report by an independent commission released on Monday.
The sticky report was based on 512 direct complaints. But according to the coordinator of the commission, child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, the number of victims could be much higher.
“The highest percentage of victims distance themselves from the Church as an institution and from religious practice after the abuse, and this position persists over generations,” Strecht said after the report was released.
It is not difficult to find shocking facts in the document delivered to the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, as the average age of the victims at the beginning of the abuse was only 11.2 years old.
The Church said it will release a list of abusers who are still active by the end of the month.
The areas with the most cases are Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Santarém and Leiria. And twenty-five complaints have been forwarded to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The vast majority of cases are time barred
The report looks at cases that began in 1950, and covers victims who are now between 15 and 88 years old. The age of some of these cases means that the courts can no longer pursue them.
A plenary assembly of the Conference of Bishops, under the chairmanship of Bishop Jose Ornelas, is scheduled on March 3 to analyze the implications of that report which covers seven decades.
Created at the end of 2021, the Commission worked under the motto “giving voice to silence”.
The group includes people not associated with the Church, such as a former minister of justice, a sociologist and a social worker.
In one week after it started operating in January, the Commission received more than a hundred complaints. By October, they had already exceeded 400 complaints.
More than 300,000 cases of abuse in Spain
An open letter signed by hundreds of Catholics prompted the retrospective study in Portugal.
It follows a similar scandal involving the Catholic Church in France, where more than 300,000 cases were reported using the same methodology: statistical extrapolation from direct denials.
Recently, the France 2 channel published a report on the proposed compensation for some victims.
The church reportedly offered victims trips to Venice or payment of vet fees.
The abuse had a profound impact on society, even with the repeated apologies of the Catholic Church, reversing its previous position that the cases were “isolated” acts.
One of the most difficult chapters to deal with will be the coverage of the cases by the Catholic hierarchy, detailed in some of the testimonies presented in Portugal.
The conclusions of the report show a systemic problem that is spread throughout the institution and that leaves several questions open in a year when the Pope travels to Lisbon for World Youth Day.