The Portuguese Catholic Church has been rocked by a recent report revealing the shocking truth of widespread sexual abuse of minors. According to a commission investigating the matter, at least 4,815 children were sexually abused by members of the Church – mostly priests – over the past 70 years. The findings, presented by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht who headed the commission, are a mere fraction of the real number of victims, as Strecht states that the 4,815 cases were merely the “absolute minimum.”
Most of the perpetrators (77%) were priests and most of the victims were male, with the majority of sexual abuse taking place when the children were aged between 10 and 14 years old. The youngest victim was just 2 years old. The abuse took place in various locations, including Catholic schools, churches, priests’ homes, and confessionals.
Jose Ornelas, head of the Bishops’ Conference, attended the presentation of the report and is set to respond to its findings later today. The Church has previously stated its readiness to “take appropriate measures” in response to the allegations. However, last year the Portuguese Catholic Church was hit with claims of cover-ups of sexual abuse, including by bishops who continue to hold active roles in the Church. The commission is currently compiling a list of accused priests still working in the Church.
The commission, which claims independence and was funded by the Catholic Church, started its work in January 2022 in response to a report in France that revealed around 3,000 priests and religious officials had sexually abused over 200,000 children. Over 500 victims were interviewed by the commission, and historical church documents were analyzed, as well as interviews conducted with bishops and other clergy members.
While 25 of the testimonies heard by the commission have been sent to the public prosecutors’ office for investigation, the majority of the cases can no longer be legally prosecuted due to the 20-year statute of limitations. The commission calls for a change in the law to allow for the initiation of legal proceedings for historic crimes committed up to 30 years ago.
Pedro Strecht, who has been praised for his sincere tribute to the victims who had the courage to speak out, emphasized that the victims are much more than just a statistic. The commission’s independence has been called into question due to its financing by the Catholic Church, but Strecht has stated that he would be the first to leave and denounce any interference by the Church in the commission’s work.
The revelations of the commission’s report are a devastating blow to the Portuguese Catholic Church and a reminder of the importance of holding those in positions of power accountable for their actions. The victims, who have suffered immeasurable harm, deserve the support and justice that has been denied to them for far too long.