As the high profile trial of seven people involved in the Casa Pia child sex scandal began in Lisbon this week, an opinion poll published in the Diário de Notícias newspaper revealed that 64.3 per cent of people do not believe justice will be done.
The accused include former TV presenter, Carlos Cruz, Jorge Ritto, a former Portuguese ambassador to South Africa, and Manuel Abrantes, a former director of the Casa Pia network. In all, around 700 witnesses and 32 alleged victims, some of them under 16 years old, including several deaf-mutes, are expected to testify in the case. They accuse the defendants of a raft of charges, including child sexual abuse, procurement and rape.
The Casa Pia scandal has fascinated and horrified the nation since it broke in 2002. The alleged abuse took place in the mid-1970s at the Lisbon Casa Pia home, part of a state-run network which looks after more than 4,000 children.
Workers at the homes say more than 100 children still living at the institution show signs of having been sexually molested.
Famous faces in court
Sections of central Lisbon were cordoned off and a crowd gathered outside the court to shout insults as the famous, and infamous, defendants arrived. The central defendant and the one to attract most insults from the crowd, is former Casa Pia employee, Carlos Silvino, who is accused of 669 acts of abuse, and of allegedly procuring children for others to abuse. He arrived at the Boa Hora court under armed guard and wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Carlos Cruz, the celebrity once known as ‘Mr TV’ in Portugal, faces five charges of abusing minors and one of performing a homosexual act with an adolescent. He has always maintained his innocence and arrived at the court in an apparently optimistic mood, saying: “I want, and all Portuguese people want, the truth to be quickly found. I’ve never lied in my life and I don’t intend to start to now.”
A former director of Casa Pia, Manuel Abrantes, is also on trial and a 62-year-old woman, Gertrudes Nunes, is accused of providing her house to be used for abuse. An eighth person is also standing trial, but on weapons charges alone. An appeal judge has already thrown out the cases against ex-government minister, Paulo Pedroso, TV comedian Herman José, and archaeologist Francisco Alves, leading many to conclude that a cover-up is under way.
After assessing the crowds and media interest in the case, the panel of three judges decided to move the trial to a larger courthouse for the next hearing, scheduled for yesterday (December 2). However, the first session proved far from sensational and was dominated by procedural questions. Legal experts predict that the trial will continue until mid-2005.