Image: Lusa

Church won’t pay compensation to victims of sexual abuse 

Bishops conference to outline measures falls dismally short

The long awaited press conference tipped to outline measures the Portuguese Catholic Church will be taking in the wake of the findings of the Independent Commission into child sex abuse within the institution fell dismally short of expectations yesterday evening.

Victims associations – particularly Quebrar o Silêncio, which has specificially petitioned the Church to come up with immediate solutions for the 106 priests still in active service against whom allegations of abuse have been made – reacted with dismay, saying the message given was ‘ambiguous’ at best.

On another level “ethical, moral questions” seemed to have been completely buried. There have been myriad references by the bishops over pedophilia ‘not being confined to the Church’. Victims’ associations claim this is not the point. The Church cannot be likened to lay society, by dint of its supposed values – therefore betrayal of said values is a great deal worse than atrocities that happen in lay society. 

President of the Episcopal Conference D. José Ornelas had the unenviable task of stating the Church’s position at the press briefing, which tabloid Correio da Manhã (CM) this morning has headlined as “Church won’t pay compensation” – this because similar ‘scandals’ uncovered in the United States and in France have seen dioceses “pay millions to victims of pedophilia”.

It won’t be happening in Portugal, according to D. José Ornelas who repeatedly referred to the report’s ‘annexe’ outlining all the priests against whom allegations have been made as “just a list of names, some of them incomplete, and without any additional information…”

Very much as the bishop intimated last month, the Church will not be taking allegations by victims on face value: proof is required (how does one prove sex abuse as a child, in some cases years previously?)

One slightly less ambiguous detail however emerged from the moment: the annexe of names has also been sent to the Public Prosecutors Office, and this “should advance with respective judicial investigations”, says CM.

Even this however came up against another swerve by the Church: “If civil Justice concludes that a case proves the practice of abuse, then the Church will advance with a respective canonical process. And if, through its own investigations, dioceses find concrete proof (again, how can one ‘concretely prove’ historic sodomy? The bishop does not explain…) they will communicate to civil Justice”.

The question of ‘preventive rules’ and concrete measures to be adopted was not explored. “The matter will be debated at the Plenary Assembly in April”, said D. Ornelas, “admitting” says CM, that closed confessionals may be dispensed with (because of the number of priests who have taken advantage of them to abuse their victims).

Digesting what has been described as the “complete lack of empathy” for victims’ suffering, victims association leaders were also shocked by D. Ornelas assurances that there would be a “memorial for victims of abuse” at the World Youth Day celebrations in Lisbon in August.

As one commentator told SIC television news last night, “this seems wholly inappropriate. World Youth Day is a celebration, for young people. It is not the place for a memorial of this kind”.

In short, the evening’s press conference involved the expected pledges that “this can never happen again”, without any details on how the Church means to carry this objective through.

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