An intensely difficult day ahead for Portugal's bishops. Photo: Paulo Cunha/ Lusa

D-day for child sex abuse in Portuguese Catholic Church

Bishops meet today to discuss action; receive report on ‘alleged active abusers’

Portugal bishops meet today to discuss the infamous report on child sex abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church.

It will be the moment also for the Independent Commission to deliver the dossier of alleged active abusers: priests still in place against whom complaints of abuse have been received.

With the form in which the Church plans to deal with this dossier pivotal, reports suggests measures agreed by the bishops will be announced “immediately”.

But there is a lot of ground to cover – not least the hugely embarrassing issue of “bishops who concealed abuse”.

In the last few days the bishops attending today’s episcopal assembly in Fátima have received “a letter signed by hundreds of institutions and Catholics” outlining the kind of actions they want to see – and “among them is the removal from their functions of bishops who covered up cases of abuse”, explain reports.

Considering names will include those considering the results of the inquiry, this is a political minefield; a minefield that President of the Portuguese Bishop’s Conference, bishop José Ornelas has already suggested will be traversed by the Church in its own way.

For now, the conference is underway and expected only to make a statement later this afternoon (possibly around 6pm).

Media reports meantime are recapping on the horrors that have been ongoing for the last 70-plus years (and almost certainly longer), stressing that of 564 complaints received in the 10 months of its remit, the Independent Commission was able to validate 512 of them – and conclude that 100 priests still working in Portugal are among those named by complainants.

Of 25 cases deemed ‘current enough’ for criminal prosecution, 15 were accepted by the Public Prosecutors Office, of which nine have since been archived. Only six remain in investigation, which investigators stress “must be understood as the tip of the iceberg”.

Calculations by those who heard victims stories over the 10 months of last year point to roughly 5,000 cases of abuse within the last seven decades, and even this is a conservative estimate based on the number of complaints that have so far come forwards.

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