Image: Lusa (Pool)

Further Church sex abuse victims coming forward since Pope’s meeting

Meeting transmitted courage – psychiatrist

The VITA Group has seen an increase in requests for help from victims of sexual abuse after the Pope met with victims on Wednesday, psychiatrist Rute Agulhas has told Lusa.

“Throughout the past few days, as a result of this meeting and the fact that this topic has been talked about even more than what has already been talked about over recent months, we have noticed an increase in requests for help”, she said.

It is as if the meeting somehow ‘transmitted courage’.

The Vita group was created in April by the bishops of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference. It aims to monitor and prevent further situations of sexual violence against children and vulnerable adults in the context of the Catholic Church.

Rute Agulhas is the group’s coordinator, and believes the Pope’s no-nonsense approach has turned a page. 

She explains that the people who have been coming forwards have said they felt “full of strength” because of what the Pope said.

“It has been a very interesting and very important movement of liberation and of breaking (their) silence”, she said.

Of the meeting on Wednesday, which Rute Agulhas attended, she said it was not just about the Pope seeing 13 victims. There were others represented via written testimonies. The 13 who took part, she believes, had the expectation that the meeting could help them find some peace and serenity.

“For some of them, it was a reunion with their faith. There were some victims who went in there very unbelieving and who came out more believing. (…) People felt more enlightened, more hopeful and felt their faith was also strengthened”, the psychiatrist told Lusa

At no time did the Pope rush anyone; “there were several people who spoke more than once, at different times. The Holy Father was listening, nodding, validating, saying things like ‘it’s very hard, I understand’, expressions that convey empathy and validation of people’s emotions”.

Asked what the next steps the Church should take on this matter, Rute Agulhas replied that “there is much to do”, particularly with regard to the prevention of abuse.

“We are all very focused on primary prevention, on empowering Church structures, it is something that victims often say: ‘it has happened to me and there is no going back, let it not happen to anyone else’”.

This concern was conveyed by several victims to Pope Francis, who in turn also “reinforced the importance of preventing (further cases), of having a more protective, more attentive Church”, she said.

“Basically, it is a responsibility of all of us as a community: to be attentive and protect our children and young people.” 

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Source: LUSA