The Catholic Church of Portugal announced, this Thursday (11), the creation of an independent commission to investigate possible sexual abuse against children by members of the clergy. The decision comes amid pressure from the Portuguese Catholic community, which is calling for an end to the silence on the matter.
The Episcopal Conference of Portugal – an institution that brings together bishops from the country’s dioceses – said in a statement that it had decided to create the commission with the aim of improving the way cases are handled and “carrying out a study to clarify this serious problem”.
Earlier this month, more than 200 Catholics sent a letter to the institution, arguing that child sexual abuse was a “systemic problem directly related to the exercise of power”.
The document was signed by lawmakers, writers and other public figures, who called on the commission to include Catholics and non-Catholics, as well as experts in social science and justice.
According to them, although “just over ten cases” of sexual abuse linked to the institution have been reported in the last decade, the actual number of violations is probably much higher.
In the last Monday (8), the starting date of the 201st Plenary Assembly of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, in Fátima, the bishop of Setúbal, José Ornelas, had already advanced the decision and assured that the commission and members of the investigating body will have “independence to create your own processes and methodology”.
On the occasion, the religious said that he is not afraid of the possible consequences of the group’s investigations. “Quite the opposite,” he said. The time span to be covered by the commission’s investigations is not yet clear, but the letter’s signatories have suggested that it should be five decades.
Currently, the bishops in each of Portugal’s 21 dioceses are responsible for investigating alleged irregularities committed by members of the clergy, but there is no oversight body for the work.
The Portuguese decision follows the recent announcement by the French Catholic Church that it will sell assets to pay compensation to victims of sexual abuse. An independent investigation commission was also formed in the country, which estimated at more than 216,000 the number of cases of sexual assault on minors committed by religious people since 1950.
Most victims were boys aged between 10 and 13 years.
At the time of the report’s release in early October, the head of the French commission responsible for the uprising, Jean-Marc Sauvé, 72, accused the church of showing “deep, total and even cruel indifference for years”, choosing to turn a blind eye to complaints and protecting herself rather than defending victims of systemic abuse.
Days earlier, the leader, who is a practicing Catholic, had already revealed to the press that the French clergy harbored between 2,900 and 3,200 pedophiles.
Over the past 20 years, the Church has received thousands of such complaints. The issue is even one of the biggest challenges faced by Pope Francis, in office since 2013.
In June, the Vatican released the most comprehensive review of Catholic Church law in the past 40 years, tightening rules against clergy who abuse minors or vulnerable adults, use positions of authority to force sexual acts and ordain women to ecclesiastical positions.
The review had been underway since 2009, at the request of Pope Emeritus Benedict 16. The latter, however, ten years later, went so far as to write that the clergy pedophilia scandals are a result of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, of openly homosexual groups in some seminars and the collapse of faith in the West.