The President of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference discusses the establishment of a new body to accompany survivors with the National Coordination Team of the Diocesan Commissions for the Protection of Minors.
By Vatican News staff reporter
Following the release, a month ago, of the final report of the Independent Commission (IC) for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church in Portugal, the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference (CEP) plans to set up a new independent body charged with listening to and accompanying victims and collecting further reports.
The decision was the outcome of the recent Bishops’ Extraordinary Assembly convened to examine the report, and was discussed last week by CEP’s President, Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho of Leiria-Fátima, with the National Coordination Team of the Diocesan Commissions for the Protection of Minors.
An independent operative body
In an interview with the Portuguese Bishops’ Agency Ecclesia, Bishop Ornelas explained that the new body will be independent from CEP so as to be more “credible”.
He further explained that it will be different from the Independent Commission (IC) established by the bishops in 2021 to examine abuse in recent decades, as it will be more “operative” in nature.
The Independent Commissions’ Report on abuse
The Independent Commission, whose findings were presented on February 13, validated 512 experiences of people who said they had been victims of abuse by priests or other Church officials between 1950 and 2022, out of a total of 564 received. Its president, child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, described the figures as as the tip of the iceberg, pointing to an estimated total of over 4,800 victims.
According to the IC, a total of 25 cases have been passed to public prosecutors. Many others fell outside the statute of limitations.
Among the recommendations the report made, was that, in cases of alleged sexual abuse of minors, the existing provision for victims to be able make a criminal complaint until the age of 25, even if the statute of limitation applies, should be raised to 30.
A very important starting point
During his meeting last week in Lisbon with the National Coordination, Bishop Ornelas pointed out the IC’s final report was an “extremely important” starting point from which CEP now wants to move on to a more operational level.
According to Bishop Ornelas, the step engaged by the Portuguese bishops in 2021 has marked a turning point in “attitudes of the past” on this issue, and there is “no turning back”. “We are going to build a better Church and a better world”, he stressed.
For his part, in another interview with Ecclesia agency and Rádio Renascença, the president of the National Coordination, José Souto Moura insisted on the need for Church institutions to act in a transparent manner “without ambiguity” in responding to reports of abuse, in order to gain credibility and trust with the victims.
To this end the former Attorney General stressed the importance of “uniformity, without disparity in behavior” between the various dioceses. “One thing that can help is to tell the victims that they are not going to complain to anyone from the clergy, that is, from the institutional Church”, he added.
68 priests identified
So far, 14 Portuguese dioceses have revealed information about the lists with names mentioned in the testimonies collected by CI, in which 68 people were identified.
Of these, 22 priests have already died, 11 do not hold any office anymore, three were acquitted in civil and/or canonical trials. Eight remain unidentified.
Five priests were removed, on a precautionary basis; one was already in this situation, and five other cases had already undergone civil and canonical proceedings.
The dioceses of Lisbon and Porto reported that the lists identified, respectively, five and seven active priests, waiting for more information to decide on any precautionary measures to be applied.