At least 4,815 children were sexually abused by members of the Portuguese Catholic Church – mostly priests – over the past 70 years, a report by a commission probing the issue said on Monday, adding the findings are just the tip of the iceberg.
Pedro Strech, the child psychiatrist who led the commission, said, “(We want) to pay a true tribute to those who were victims of abuse during their childhood and who dared to give voice to the silenced.” “They are more than a statistic.”
Streich said the 4,815 cases were the “absolute minimum” number of victims of sexual abuse by clergy members in Portugal since 1950.
Most perpetrators (77%) were priests and most victims were male, Streich said, adding that they were abused in Catholic schools, churches, priests’ homes, confessionals, among other places.
Most sexual abuses occurred when the children were aged 10–14, with the youngest victim being just two years old.
Jose Ornelas, head of the bishops’ conference, attended the presentation of the final report and will respond to it later on Monday. The church has previously said it is prepared to “take appropriate steps”.
The Portuguese Catholic Church was rocked last year by cases of an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse involving bishops who were active in church roles. The commission said it is preparing a list of accused priests who are still working.
The Portuguese commission began its work in January 2022 after a report in France revealed that some 3,000 priests and religious officials sexually abused more than 200,000 children.
Allegations of abuse have come from people of various backgrounds, from every region of the country and also from Portuguese citizens living in other countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas.
The commission spoke with more than 500 victims, analyzed historical church documents and interviewed bishops and other clergy members.
A total of 25 witnesses heard by the commission were referred to the public prosecutor’s office for examination as all others were done 20 years ago and legal proceedings cannot be initiated now.
The commission said that the law should be changed so that legal action can be initiated for historical crimes committed 30 years ago.
The commission, which says it is independent, was financed by the Catholic Church. Asked by Reuters in December 2021 whether this could be a threat to the independence of the commission, Strache said that if the Church interfered with the process he would be the first to reach out and condemn it.