Panel Finds Decades of Abuse in Catholic Church in Portugal
LISBON — More than 4,800 individuals may have been victims of child sex abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church and 512 people have already come forward to speak out, an expert panel looking into abuse in the church said Monday, after Portuguese church officials had said there were only a handful of cases.
Senior clergymen sat in the front row of the auditorium where committee members read out some of the harrowing allegations of abuse, replete with vivid and shocking descriptions.
The Independent Committee for the Study of Child Abuse in the Catholic Church, established by Portuguese bishops about a year ago, looked into allegations of abuse starting in 1950.
The panel produced its final report Monday, and the bishops are scheduled to discuss it next month. The statute of limitations has expired for most of the cases, and only 25 allegations were passed to prosecutors, the panel said.
The report comes four years after Pope Francis gathered church leaders from around the world at the Vatican to address the crisis of sex abuse in the church, more than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia.
Bishops and other Catholic superiors in many parts of Europe at the time denied the existence of clergy sex abuse or insisted on giving little weight to the problem.
Pedro Strecht, a psychiatrist who headed the panel in Portugal, said it estimated that the true number of victims during the period was at least 4,815, but he did not explain how he arrived at that figure.
The panel is not publishing the names of the victims, the identities of the accused or even the locations where the abuse was said to have taken place. The panel will, however, send to bishops by the end of the month a list of people who are accused of abuse and still active in the church.
The Portuguese Bishops Conference and the police will receive a separate — and confidential — annex of all the names of church members reported to the committee, which included psychiatrists, a former Supreme Court judge and a social worker.
The Portuguese church has not said whether it intends to pay compensation to any victims.
The report said that 77 percent of the abusers were priests, with the remaining perpetrators being linked to church institutions.
Forty-eight percent of those who came forward had spoken about the abuse for the first time, the report said.
The report said that there were places in Portugal, including seminaries and religious institutions, that were “real black spots” for abuse.
The panel recommended that the statute of limitations on such crimes be extended to at least 30 years, from the current 23 years.