Child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht is leading the commission into child sexual abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church. He told reporters in February that stories emerging "reveal suffering… which, in some cases, has been hidden for decades… For many, this is the first time they are breaking their silence.”

Child sex abuse scandal in Portuguese Catholic Church

Further grist to mill as Lisbon’s Cardinal Patriarchate removes priest over allegation of (adult) rape

The apparent disconnect within the Catholic Church over crimes of child sexual abuse has been further corroborated today by news that Lisbon’s Cardinal Patriarchate has removed a priest suspected of having raped an adult woman.

The instant question is if the Church moves so quickly in a case of adult rape, what stopped it from acting when the mother of an 11 year old boy came forwards with an allegation of child sexual abuse against her son? What makes the alleged sexual abuse of a child somehow less urgent; less criminal?

Today there are still no real answers – although it looks like the Church will fall back on the fact that until Pope Francis tightened rules over procedure, there simply wasn’t the will.

The Cardinal Patriarch has meantime published a statement about the allegation of child sex abuse, which nonetheless appears to have failed to take the heat out of the situation.

In it, he explains the original complaint came in the 90s, when the child was just 11 years old – and when D. José Policarpo was Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon.

José Policarpo “dealt with the case bearing in mind canonical and civic recommendations of the time”, he says.

The priest was ‘removed from the parish where he was and went on to serve in a chapel hospital’, where he was ‘accompanied’.

There were apparently no further complaints of sexual abuse against children for the rest of the priest’s long career (he is now very old and in a long-term care centre). 

As SIC television news has remarked as “rules of the Church do not override penal law, this justification is generating (further) controversy.

“In the same letter D. Manuel Clemente guarantees that after recent measures defined by Pope Francis, obliging the registering of all cases of sexual abuse, a Zero Tolerance rule for these situations was adopted”.

In SIC’s mindset, the statement by the Cardinal Patriarch “raises more questions than it answers”, but requests by journalists for face-to-face interviews have all been denied.

Now the information that the Patriarchate acted swiftly when an adult complained of having been raped by a priest somehow adds to rising feelings.

The information came from the Patriarchate this morning, and has been reproduced by TSF Rádio:

“The Patriarchate of Lisbon received a complaint relating to a possible crime of rape practised by a diocesan priest. 

“The case, which does not fall within the scope of the Commission of the Protection of Minors, was communicated to competent civic authorities.

“After hearing the victim and the priest, the Patriarchate of Lisbon decided to start the  canonical procedures foreseen for this type of case and removed the priest from all his functions until the facts were established.

“The Patriarchate of Lisbon is fully available to collaborate with all the competent authorities, always having as a priority the investigation of the truth and the monitoring of victims.

“Lisbon, August 1, 2022″.

The trouble with all this fuss over one situation in which a complaint of child sexual abuse was not taken to its logical end is that we are not talking about one case of child sexual abuse. The commission investigating child sex abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church has heard “hundreds of priests have sexually abused children since the 1950s”. The majority of crimes have lapsed, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Catholic Church has been protecting priests who committed serious crimes against some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Discussing this deeply disturbing situation on SIC television news last night, commentator and State advisor Luís Marques Mendes said simply that any priest who abuses a child “cannot be a priest”.

This episode has given the Church “a terrible image” – and Lisbon’s Cardinal Patriarch SHOULD have communicated the information when he became aware of it, said Mr Marques Mendes.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com