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More than 4,800 cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church uncovered in Portugal

A Roman Catholic church in Lisbon.
A Roman Catholic church in Lisbon. Copyright Armando Franca/AP
Copyright Armando Franca/AP
By Nuno Prudêncio
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An independent commission has reported that more than 4,800 children were abused within the Catholic Church in Portugal but warned that figure could be much higher.

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Over the past seven decades, more than 4,800 children were sexually abused within the Catholic Church in Portugal, according to a report by an independent commission released on Monday.

The harrowing report was based on 512 direct complaints. But according to the commission's coordinator, child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, the number of victims could be much higher.

"The highest percentage of victims distance themselves from the Church as an institution and from religious practice after the abuse, and this position persists across generations,” Strecht said after the report was released.

It is not hard to find shocking facts in the document delivered to the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, such as the average age of the victims at the onset of abuse was just 11.2 years old.

The Church said that it will release a list of abusers that are still active by the end of the month.

The districts with the most cases are Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Santarém and Leiria. And some twenty-five complaints have been forwarded to the Public Prosecutor's Office.

AP Photo
The head of the Portuguese Bishops Conference, Bishop Jose Ornelas arrives for a news conference to comment on the report.AP Photo

Vast majority of cases are time-barred

The report looks at cases starting in 1950, and it covers victims that are now between 15 and 88 years old. The age of some of these cases means the courts can no longer pursue them.

A plenary assembly of the Bishops' Conference, chaired by Bishop Jose Ornelas, is scheduled on 3 March to analyse the implications of that report that covers seven decades.

Created at the end of 2021, the commission worked under the motto "giving voice to silence".

The group includes people not connected to the Church, such as a former minister of justice, a sociologist and a social worker.

In just one week after it began operating in January, the commission received more than a hundred complaints. By October, they had already exceeded 400 complaints.

More than 300,000 cases of abuse in Spain

An open letter signed by hundreds of Catholics prompted the retrospective study in Portugal.

It follows a similar scandal surrounding the Catholic Church in France, in which more than 300,000 cases were reported using the same methodology: statistical extrapolation from direct denunciations.

Recently, the channel France 2 published a report on the compensation proposed to some victims.

The church reportedly offered victims trips to Venice or payment of vet fees.

The abuse has had a profound effect on society, even with the repeated apologies offered by the Catholic Church, reversing its previous stance that the cases were "isolated" acts.

One of the difficult chapters to deal with will be the cover-up of cases by the Catholic hierarchy, a detail in several of the testimonies presented in Portugal.

The conclusions to the report reveal a systemic problem that is spread throughout the institution and leaves several questions open in a year when the Pope will travel to Lisbon for World Youth Day.

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