Portugal is going forward with a commission to investigate possible cases of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, as the lay head of the committee urged victims to come forward on Thursday.
The Independent Committee for the Study of Child Abuse in the Church has been set up by the Portuguese bishops' conference and will be headed by a child psychiatrist, Pedro Strecht.
Alongside him will be a team of six professionals including psychiatrists, a former supreme court judge, and a social worker.
The team will begin working together from January next year, collecting testimonies from all of those who want to come forward and report the abuse they have suffered.
Strecht said he hopes victims will overcome their fear and reluctance and get in touch, even if the abuse happened decades ago. He promised anonymity for anyone who does.
"Encouraging victims to come forward requires a lot of time, they need the time to gain confidence so that they can feel that their word is important, to tell the traumatic experience of their past lives," he added.
Bishop José Ornelas, head of the Portuguese bishops' conference, said he wanted the committee to work " without prejudice or cover-ups" to "illuminate these painful situations with the light of justice and truth".
"What scares me is not knowing how many people who were abused will come forward. I hope they do come forward, may it be as close to the real figure as possible, this is our interest," Ornelas said.
The committee, which will report to the conference, is in addition to 21 local groups across the country assessing child sex abuse cases.
The local groups were set up following Pope Francis’s appeal in 2019 for the Roman Catholic Church to address abuse allegations.
Only a dozen allegations of sexual abuse involving Portuguese priests have been investigated by authorities since 2001, according to church officials.
More than half of those cases were dropped because church investigators decided there was not enough evidence to pursue them.
While the commission does not plan to start any criminal investigations, it hopes to deliver its conclusion to the bishop's conference by the end of 2022.