Thousands of suspected abuse cases in Catholic Church Portugal


Southern Europe

Lennart Nijenhuis,

Photo AFP, Arne Dedert

At least 4,815 children have been sexually abused within the Portuguese Roman Catholic Church since 1950. That is what a commission of enquiry estimates.

In about a year, the commission recorded 564 testimonies from people who say they have been victims of sexual abuse in the church. Twenty-five cases were submitted to the public prosecutor's office.

In its final report, presented on Monday, the commission believes, based on the investigation, that there must have been as many as 4815 victims of abuse committed by clergy or other church figures. Committee chairman and child psychologist Pedro Strecht says this is an "absolute minimum".

The vast majority of perpetrators, some 70 per cent, were priests, and most victims were boys. The abuse mainly occurred when the children were between 10 and 14, in churches, priests' homes and Catholic schools, among other places. The youngest victim was two years old, according to the commission.

The hundreds of witnesses come from different backgrounds and from all over Portugal, where 80 per cent of the population claims to be Catholic. Some live abroad. "We sincerely praise the victims who were abused in their childhood and dared to give voice to break the silence," Strecht said.

Only a small proportion of the cases have been forwarded to the prosecution. This is because most abuse cases took place more than 20 years ago and are now time-barred. The commission members believe the law should be changed so that cases are only time-barred after 30 years.

The Portuguese commission began investigating abuse within the church after a report revealed that more than 200,000 children had been abused in France by some 3,000 priests and other church figures. Other countries are also conducting similar investigations. The commission in Portugal is independent but funded by the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis promised in 2019 to eradicate paedophilia within the church.


Portugal's President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa received a copy of the report on Monday. He thanked the commission for its "remarkable work", praising its role in "recognizing the unbearable pain of the victims". According to the Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Notícias, he also underlined that the size of the allegations is "much greater than initially estimated".



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