By Lisa Zengarini
A new independent commission has been established by the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference (CEP) to investigate into sexual abuse in the Portuguese Church by giving voice to the victims.
Giving voice to silence
The creation of the Commission, operating under the slogan “Giving voice to silence” (“Dar Voz ao Silêncio”), was announced during the last bishops’ Plenary Assembly in November, and comes on the heel of the release of the CIASE Report on sexual abuse in the Church in France.
It will be funded by the CEP, although it will open to contributions from other partners in civil society. The team is composed of experts from different backgrounds and coordinated by pediatric psychiatrist Doctor Pedro Strecht.
Its members, scope and work plan were presented at a press conference held in Lisbon earlier this week. Participants in the conference explained that the Portuguese bishops want to get a clearer and truthful overall picture of how many people have been victims of sexual abuse in the Church, on who has been abused and by whom.
Testimonies over a period of 70 years
To this end the Commission is strongly encouraging survivors to come forward assuring anonimity and that information given will be strictly confidential.
Testimonies, covering a period of over 70 years, from 1950 until 2022, will be collected online, and victims will also be able to have face-to-face meetings with the team.
Interviews will give an idea of the number of cases, and and allow to analyze the circumstance in which they occured, sociologist Ana Nunes de Almeida explained at the press conference.
Not a criminal investigation
The Commission will also examine documentation from various public databases and archives, as well as in diocesan archives.
Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio, a retired judge of the Portuguese Supreme Court and former Minister of Justice, further specified that this will not be a criminal investigation, but a research in which the Commission team will have to distinguish between "complaints" and "testimonies".
This is why it will cooperate with the Attorney General. He also emphasized that, though funded by the CEP, it will operate independently from the Catholic Church.
Final Report published by the end of 2022
Another member of the team, psychiatrist Daniel Sampaio, highlighted the importance of communication and appealed to the cooperation of the media, noting that the most important thing in this communication is “to listen to what has not been said” until now.
The Commission is expected to publish a final Report by the end of this year. Its findings will help the Portuguese bishops improve child protection in the Church.
Bishops' commitment for the victims
Speaking to journalists in December , the President of the Portuguese bishops’, Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho of Setúbal, stressed the importance of learning the the full truth on child abuse to find solutions, saying bishops are ready to contribute actively to the research
“I can state very clearly," he said, "that we want to know more about this reality and its extent, and most importantly about the personal dramas behind it, offering the people who have sufferedabuse, the possibility of having their voices heard and justice. We have embarked on this journey for these people who are the reason of being of this Commission.”
"As a Church in Portugal we are the first to want to shed light on all this reality," Bishop Ornelas pointed out.