14 Feb, 2023 @ 17:45
2 mins read

While Spanish victims are forced to wait for justice, Portugal publishes report on abuses in the Catholic Church

priest church Saint John S Seminary Unsplash
priest church Saint John S Seminary Unsplash

A DEVASTATING report published this week has revealed that at least 4,815 children were sexually abused by members of the Catholic Church in Portugal over the past 70 years. 

The document was released by an independent commission that was charged with investigating the allegations. The numbers were described by its president, child psychologist Pedro Strecht, as being ‘just the tip of the iceberg’.

The Church itself commissioned the inquiry. On Monday, the president of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, José Ornelas, Bishop of Leiria-Fátima, said that the report reveals a ‘tragic reality’ and he ‘asked all victims for forgiveness’.

The process in Portugal is in stark contrast to how the issue is being dealt with in neighbouring Spain, where the Church has traditionally denied any such probes are necessary and claimed that there were only ‘isolated cases’ of abuse. 

Strecht said that the aim of the inquiry was to ‘give a voice to the silence’ of the victims, and he paid tribute to those who had been in touch with his staff to provide their testimony. 

Some 564 people recounted their experiences, explaining how they were abused by priests of other officials, the BBC reported. 

This testimony included information about how other minors had been abused, which explains why the final victim count runs into the thousands. 

Strecht added that most of the perpetrators were priests (77%), while 57% of the victims were male, Reuters reported. 

The report found that abuse took place in priests’ homes, churches, Catholic schools and confessionals, among other locations. Most of the children involved were aged 10 to 14, and the youngest case found was aged just two at the time of the abuse. 

Newspaper investigation

In Spain, meanwhile, it has fallen to media outlets – in particular Spanish daily El Pais – to lead the way when it comes to investigating abuse in the Catholic Church. 

In 2018, the newspaper started a major investigation into paedophilia and has created a database of cases. There are no official figures on the issue in Spain.

According to El Pais’ findings, 910 figures from the Church have been accused of abuse, and 1,741 victims have been documented. 

Between 2018 and 2021 the paper published accounts of 146 cases; in the last year it has uncovered 500 more; and since 1985, the Church itself, the courts and other media outlets have reported another 260 cases. 

The last report covered abuse ranging from touching through clothes to repeated rapes, with most victims aged between 10 to 14 but the full range going from four to 17. Nearly all cases involve male victims. 

El Pais has handed over several reports, containing accusations against 500 clerics, to the Spanish Episcopal Conference, the Vatican and the ombudsman. The response from the Church has been one of silence 

What’s more, the newspaper directly questioned 141 orders and dioceses about the allegations at the end of 2022, but received barely any responses. 

In fact, the daily reported having had access to a circular that was sent out in response to its enquiries by the new general secretary of the Episcopal Conference, Cesar Garcia Magan. In it, he advised bishops to collaborate in a highly restricted manner with the investigation.

Audit from bishops

A year ago, Spain’s bishops commissioned an audit from the law firm Cremades & Calvo Sotelo aimed at ‘getting to the bottom’ of the issue of paedophilia in the Church. 

A spokesperson told El Pais that just over 100 victims have been interviewed so far, despite the nearly 2,000 victims found by the newspaper. 

There is no confirmation so far as to when the report will be published, but it is expected to arrive before June of this year. 

Meanwhile, Spain’s lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, requested in March of last year that the ombudsman carry out a parallel investigation. So far 400 interviews have been conducted for that probe, but there is also no news as to when the final report will be completed.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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