The Catholic Church in disgrace

Child sex abuse within Portugal’s Catholic Church: final report delivered today

Report will be made public tomorrow

The commission that in January 2022 began investigating sexual abuse in Portugal’s Catholic church has delivered its final report to the Church today.

The document which refers to “hundreds of testimonies” will be released to the media tomorrow during a presentation in Lisbon.

Pedro Strecht, the child psychiatrist who has led the commission throughout, is understood to have delivered the report to the Portuguese Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CEP), whose president, the bishop of Leiria-Fatima, José Ornelas, has scheduled a statement on its contents for 4pm tomorrow.

Says Lusa, an extraordinary plenary assembly of the Episcopal Conference has already been convened for March 3 to analyse the report.

Without giving final figures, the commission announced in its last public statement in October that it had already registered 424 validated testimonies, including cases of abuse that occurred since 1950. Victims ages were put at “between 15 and 88”.

“The members of the commission made it clear from the outset that there was no question of a criminal investigation, but stated that reports of crimes that have not lapsed will be forwarded to Justice”, said Lusa. 

This happened in June, when 17 reports were sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

By October an announcement came from the Attorney General’s Office that of 10 investigations opened, more than half (six) had already been archived.

In parallel, it was disclosed earlier this month that the Diocesan Commissions for the Protection of Minors had by then received 26 reports of sexual abuse throughout the country.

The sex abuse revelations “shook the Church and Portuguese society itself”, Lusa explains.

Despite the “zero tolerance” to abuse decreed by Pope Francis, Pedro Strecht maintains “there is a sector of the Catholic Church that wants to keep secrets” and that it has become “very clear that there has been a cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy in Portugal“.

Strecht has called on the institution to “overcome fear” and refuse “the concealment of concealment”.

At issue are alleged cover-ups of crimes, namely by the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Clemente, and the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima and President of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, José Ornelas.

These cases caused a particular stir when President Marcelo said that he didn’t believe 400 testimonies of sexual abuse were “particularly high”.

“Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was strongly criticised and practically only the Prime Minister, António Costa, came out in defence of the head of state, who, after two days of successive explanations, ended up apologising to the victims”, adds Lusa.

The sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have affected countries across the board – from the United States to France/  Australia.

But the fact that this report is being released just as the country discusses the expenses involved in Portugal’s hosting this summer of World Youth Day – the largest event in the calendar of the Catholic Church – is unfortunate.

Lusa has been at pains to impress nonetheless that the Church does not believe the report will affect the event.

The State news agency concludes that Pedro Stretcht was chosen to lead Portugal’s independent commission because “he had distinguished himself as the doctor of the minors abused in the Casa Pia case 20 years ago”. Other members of commission also included psychiatrist Daniel Sampaio, former Minister of Justice Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio, sociologist and researcher Ana Nunes de Almeida, social worker and family therapist Filipa Tavares and filmmaker Catarina Vasconcelos.

Source material: LUSA