Bishop of Angra Armando Esteves Domingues
Bishop of Angra Armando Esteves Domingues believes suspension of suspected pedophile priests "is fulfilment of what Pope Francis has recommended..." Image: João Lopes Cardoso

Azores bishop acts over priests suspected of child sex abuse

Suspends both – contrary to intimated practice on mainland

The diocese of Angra, in the Azores, has suspended two priests who are being investigated for alleged cases of the sexual abuse of minors.

Contrary to the narrative coming out of last week’s bishops conference in Évora, the bishop of Angra, Armando Esteves Domingues, has take the view that suspension is “the fulfilment of what Pope Francis has recommended as the norm and practice of the Church in matters of abuse”.

In a statement today, the bishop revealed that on the list given to him last Friday by the independent commission for the study of cases of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church in Portugal “there are two names: a priest from São Miguel and another from the island of Terceira”.

“The diocesan bishop has already spoken with both of them and, together, they have agreed that the priests in question will be prevented from publicly exercising their ministry until the end of the previous investigation process, which has already begun in the diocese and in accordance with canonical norms. A report to the public prosecutor’s office will also follow,” the statement adds.

Says Lusa, “Armando Esteves Domingues stresses that “this decision is not an assumption of (the priests) own guilt, nor a condemnation on the part of the diocesan bishop”.

The statement adds that the report by the independent commission “identified complaints regarding eight cases of alleged abuse that occurred in seven districts of the Azores: two in Velas and one in Calheta, on the island of São Jorge; one in Faial; one in Angra do Heroísmo and one in Praia da Vitória, on the island of Terceira; one in the municipality of Lajes and another in São Roque, both on the island of Pico (…) These alleged abuses were allegedly committed between 1973 and 2004, by different people,  four of whom – three priests and a layman – are now deceased”.

The diocese adds that “after the independent commission presented its report, and after three years of activity without any denunciation, it has already received a new complaint, which involves a priest from São Miguel” who is also deceased.

A member of the diocesan commission for prevention and accompaniment met the victim and made available the “support of the diocese to continue on this path to recovery”.

According to the bishop, “after the shame and scandal that the revelation of the existence of abuse has provoked among society in general and Christians in particular, it is time for action“.

“To all those who feel hurt, confused or lost, we appeal to them to trust that everything will be done to implement punitive measures where necessary, but also preventive and training measures, which contribute to restoring trust and hope to all Christians”.

Armando Esteves Domingues argues that “the priority of the Church must continue to be the victims, who for years have suffered in silence (…), guaranteeing them the right to justice and care, without rejecting technical, human and financial means for the reparation of the evil inflicted”.

“Even though we are aware that the perception of the seriousness of this crime is very different today than it was in the past, these abuses should never have happened in the Church. Asking for forgiveness is too little,” the prelate stressed assuring that “the Diocese of Angra will do everything so that abuses no longer take place.”

“The Church cannot even try to hide the tragedy of abuse. We will act with zero tolerance towards abusers and we make ourselves available to welcome, listen and repair the lives of all those who have been abused, whether those who have already denounced it or those who in their silence and shame continue to suffer alone,” he added.

The bishop also announces the availability, through the diocesan commission for prevention and accompaniment, “of all means to guarantee the accompaniment and psychological treatment of the victims”.

“This commission, now renewed, composed only of lay people, experts in various social, therapeutic and legal areas, will continue to do its work in an even more committed way, ensuring the confidentiality that situations of this delicacy require,” his statement continues.

The Bishop of Angra also addresses “those who have not yet had the courage to denounce or have preferred not to give voice to their silence”, says Lusa, expressing “availability to listen to them”.

All in all a completely different attitude to that still prevalent on the mainland where even the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon is saying no priests will be suspended without ‘concrete proof’ of the abuse their victims have attested to have suffered.

Yesterday, the Bishop of Braga went even further; suggesting pedophile priests should be forgiven if they are repentant.

The ‘mainland’  stance, however, has not gone down well with church associations or those that support victims of abuse, nor reportedly with Portuguese catholics.

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