The independent commission that investigates cases of sexual abuse against minors in the Catholic Church in Portugal has concluded that at least 4,815 children have been abused by members of the institution since 1950. The final report of the case was publicly presented this Monday morning (13), in Lisbon.
The cases, which peaked between the 1960s and 1990s, took place in different contexts, such as seminaries, sacristies, boarding schools, confessionals, scout groups and shelters linked to the church. About 96% of abusers are male, and 77% are priests.
There were records in all districts of the country. The average age of minors is 11.2 years, and the main targets of sexual assaults were boys —52.7% of cases—, as in most investigations of this type. The commission highlights, however, the significant number of girls who were also abused.
About 52.7% of minors were abused more than once, and 27.5% report that the abuse lasted for more than a year. Most of the episodes have expired, but 25 cases, still within the legal deadlines, were sent to the Public Ministry.
The conclusions presented in the report will be discussed at a special meeting of the Catholic summit in the country, which will also assess whether compensation will be paid to the victims. In France, where an independent investigation revealed that more than 200,000 children and adolescents had been abused over a 70-year period, the church agreed to sell property and property to pay compensation.
In Portugal, the commission was created at the request of the CEP (Portuguese Episcopal Conference), precisely amid the wave of sexual abuse scandals against minors in the Catholic Church in several countries.
Before starting the public presentation of the conclusions, the coordinator of the commission, childhood psychiatrist Pedro Strecht. thanked the “freedom and total independence” to carry out the work.
In addition to collecting reports through a telephone hotline and website dedicated to the investigation, the commission analyzed documents in the diocesan archives. Of the reported cases, 512 were validated. Due to the delay in accessing part of the church’s historical collection, the commission reports that not all documents could be analyzed.
At the conference, commission members alternated disclosing numbers and technical data in the document with reading some of the victims’ reports. “When I told my mother, she didn’t believe it. And even worse: she said I was guilty”, was heard in one of the reports.
Victims took an average of 10 years to talk about abuse for the first time. For more than 40% of them, the first report was made to the independent commission. Only 4% filed legal claims.
“The fundamental characteristic of abuse is the power that the abuser has over the child”, said psychiatrist Daniel Sampaio, also a member of the commission. “In religious institutions, a child’s vulnerability appears, which is amplified by a spiritual belief. Therefore, the spiritual relationship between the abuser and the child makes the child more vulnerable.”
At the presentation ceremony, the independent commission advocated changes to statute of limitations. In Portugal, the current law says that victims of sexual abuse as minors have until the age of 23 to file a formal complaint. The group of experts defended that the deadlines be extended to 30 years.
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