Pedophilia is “transversal through society”, not exclusive to clergy
In a statement that may only serve to haunt him, Portugal’s Bishop of Leiria Fátima has “rejected” the notion potentially forming through society that the Portuguese Catholic Church is peppered with pedophiles.
Talking to journalists over the weekend, D. José Ornelas said: “I do not accept being told the Catholic Church is pedophile. It is completely untrue. That we have cases of pedophilia, yes we do, because this is transversal throughout society”.
The president of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference is himself under investigation over suspicions that he helped cover up child sex abuse by priests in an orphanage in Mozambique 11 years ago.
He has insisted that this is not a matter which would prompt him to resign – indeed he adds that no one has asked him to.
The incident in Mozambique has a number of ‘sides’. D. José Ornelas says that he did everything he could to see the matter clarified (it was communicated to all the relevant authorities at the time, including the Pope – and inquiries eventually were archived, with neither priest being sanctioned). Correio da Manhã reported on Sunday that a complaint by a Portuguese teacher at the orphanage was sent to President Marcelo, citing “the inaction of D. José Ornelas”.
Due to having received the complaint, Marcelo was bound by protocol to pass it to the Public Ministry, which is now investigating.
But all this comes at a particularly sensitive time. The Pope is due to travel to Portugal next year for a major event on the Catholic calendar; the commission set up to investigate child sex abuse within the Church has passed at least 17 complaints to the Public Ministry (many complaints were simply too historic to tackle), from which 10 inquiries have been opened; there have been all kinds of allegations affecting the reputation of Church elders – and November is scheduled to see the episcopal conference ‘debate’ the issue of abuses within the Church.
At the same time, Correio da Manhã carries the headline today saying “Pedophilia is keeping the faithful away from ceremonies”. The gist of the story is that church services these days see fewer and fewer people in the congregation. “First it was the pandemic, now it is pedophilia” reducing attendances, says the paper.
In one of its pithy editorials, CM freely admits that “the undeniable fact that there have been abusive priests does not create collective guilt. The problem is that many of the leaders of the Church smothered scandals of the past that have now come to light. The Church has an obligation to deliver abusers to Justice, as well as those who protected them. The priest who abused children in the confessional, the bishop from Timor who fooled half the world, but also D. José Ornelas and Cardinal Clemente – all of them are part of the reputational problem of the Church, naturally with different levels of guilt”.
If this is what the country’s ‘best read tabloid’ is thinking, it won’t be far off what is being ‘said in the street’, and felt by the many thousands of citizens who perhaps used to go to Church fairly regularly but who now do not feel quite the same pull on their senses of devotion.