Child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht
Child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht opened the press conference this morning paying tribute to the victims who are "so much more than numbers or statistics"

Catholic sex abuse dossier: “a minimum of 4,815 victims”

Church keeps annex of abusers’ names secret

The (almost) full horror of the report into sexual abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church is being minutely described over national television today as the dossier delivered by the independent commission to the Church yesterday is finally made public.

But the annex detailing the names of abusers, and of the people who covered up the abuse, will remain secret.

That appears to have been the ‘deal’.

Thus today’s ‘horror’ is not a complete one – but it is nonetheless vast and deeply troubling.

Psychiatrist Daniel Sampaio – brother of former president of the republic Jorge Sampaio – describes the results of the study as “very remarkable”, suggesting “the most important treatment of abusers is swift and effective justice (…) We need to make a denunciation of these situations so that Justice can act (…)  Treatment can be through psychopharmaceuticals, but intensive psychotherapy is needed (…) For these abusive people a spiritual accompaniment is not enough. It is fundamental within the Church, but these people have to be treated from the psychological point of view“…

Of course, many of the abusers denounced to the commission will have since died, retired or stopped practising.

Presenting the commission’s findings today, coordinator and child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht said there will have been a minimum of 4,815 victims of sexual abuse in the Church since 1950.

As it was over 500 complaints were validated, coming from victims of all ages: from those who are still minors, to people in advanced old age. They number former pupils of Catholic schools and seminaries, boy scouts, girls who are now nuns.

Say reports, “there are accounts of abuse in sacristries, religious institutions, confessionals and holiday camps. Abuses took place in all forms: penetration, exhibitionism, manipulation, the sending of mobile phone messages, among others. The majority of abusers are men; some could still be active”.

The more one goes back in time, Pedro Strecht explains, the more the phenomenon assumed “truly endemic proportions, affecting children of both sexes, almost all practising Catholics with a larger proportion of boys than girls and encompassing all points of the country and several social groups and realities”.

To abusers one has to add ‘concealers’ – the hierarchy that covered up complaints: “namely some bishops”. “There is a sector in the Catholic Church that wants to keep secrets (about these abuses)”, Strecht has said this in the past, and he said it again today.

As it has always been recognised that this inquiry was not a criminal investigation, one can be assured that only the smallest tip of the tip of the iceberg will ever be ‘dealt with’. Out of many hundreds of testimonies, only 25 ‘made it’ to the public prosecutor’s office – and we already know that of the first 10 criminal inquiries ‘opened’, six were archived.

As Pedro Strecht has stressed, one cannot quantify the number of crimes that will never be addressed as many of the thousands of victims were abused more than once/ over a period of time.

Complaints received by the commission came particularly from five districts: Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Santarém and Leiria.

The average age of victims is 52, Stecht added – showing that the peak of abuse took place in the 60s and 70s.

But while today will be peppered with victim’s trauma; descriptions of abuses suffered at the hands of Catholic priests, it has not been lost on the nation’s media that we are also discussing the “absurd costs” of the World Youth Day Catholic jamboree, coming to Lisbon this summer.

As one leader writer suggests, “it would be unpardonable” if the Church did not tells us what it has done up till now to stop sexual abuse, and what kind of indemnity it will give the victims” – thousands of which may have gone to their graves “in silence”.

Whoever is prepared to spend €80 million on World Youth Day should have no difficulty” in supporting compensation for the victims, writes Paulo João Santos in his piece entitled “Church in the dock”.”

The Church meantime has thanked the commission for its report, which it says it will be analysing in an extraordinary plenary assembly of the Portuguese Catholic Bishops’ Conference on March 3.

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