At least 4.815 minors have been victims of sexual violence within the Portuguese Catholic Church since 1950, according to the conclusions presented Monday by an independent commission which has heard more than 500 testimonies over the past year.
“These testimonies allow us to arrive at a much larger network of victims, calculated at the minimum number of 4.815 victims,” said the coordinator of this commission of experts, child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, during the presentation of their final report. in Lisbon.
“It is now difficult for everything to remain the same concerning sexual violence against minors in Portugal and the awareness of its traumatic impact,” he told the press and several church leaders.
At the end of 2021, the hierarchy of the Portuguese Church had instructed Mr. Strecht to form a team to take the measure of the phenomenon of child crime within it.
The president of the Portuguese episcopal conference, the bishop of Leiria-Fatima José Ornelas, must react Monday at the end of the day.
The Portuguese bishops also plan to meet in early March to draw the conclusions of the independent report and to "eradicate as much as possible this scourge from the life of the Church", the secretary of the episcopal conference, Father Manuel, said in January. Barbasa.
Faced with the thousands of cases of sexual violence by priests unearthed around the world and accusations of a cover-up by members of the clergy, Pope Francis promised in 2019 to fight an "all-out battle" against pedophilia within the Church.
"Ask for forgiveness"
Before Portugal, several countries have already tried to take the measure of this phenomenon, including France, Ireland, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.
The Cardinal-Patriarch of Lisbon and highest prelate of the Portuguese Church Manuel Clemente said he was ready in April 2022 to "recognize the errors of the past" and to "ask forgiveness" from the victims. He attended Monday the presentation of the report of the independent commission.
Expected in the Portuguese capital for the World Youth Days which will take place at the beginning of August, the sovereign pontiff could meet victims, recently indicated the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon, Américo Aguiar, in charge of the organization of this world meeting. young Catholics.
The vast majority of the crimes denounced to the independent commission are already time-barred but twenty-five testimonies have been sent to the public prosecutor's office, said its coordinator.
Among these rare cases is that of Alexandra, the middle name of a 43-year-old woman wishing to remain anonymous, raped by a priest during confession when she was a 17-year-old novice preparing for a life as a nun.
"It's very difficult to talk about the subject in Portugal", where 80% of the population defines itself as Catholic, testified last week to AFP this mother, trained in computer science but employed as a kitchen assistant.
“The Church must purify itself”
"I had kept this secret for many years, but I felt that it was becoming more and more difficult to manage it on my own," she said in a telephone interview.
After having denounced her attacker to the ecclesiastical authorities, she felt "ignored" because the bishopric concerned limited itself to sending her complaint to the Vatican, which has still not followed up.
Three years later, she finally found in the experts of the independent commission an understanding ear and the psychological support she needed.
Waiting to hear what steps the bishops will take with a mixture of hope and skepticism, Alexandra says the work of the independent commission has been a “good start” for those seeking to “break down the wall” of silence that has held them back. long surrounded.
"This initiative is long overdue, the Church must purify itself," said another victim, quoted anonymously by Pedro Strecht in his speech.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)