Catholic Bishops of Portugal Statement on Study Revealing Victims Abuse from 1950 to the Present "We ask forgiveness..." FULL TEXT

 CEP President's statement following the presentation of the Independent Commission study

The Portuguese Episcopal Conference decided to create an Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church in Portugal at the November 2021 Plenary Assembly. feel protection and security in the environments of the Catholic Church, as insistently asked by Pope Francis. Today, we have reached the conclusion of an important stage that allows us to know, in a more systematic way, this painful reality. 
The report published today expresses a harsh and tragic reality: there were, and there are, victims of sexual abuse provoked by clerics and other pastoral agents, within the scope of the life and activities of the Church in Portugal. The study presented collects the testimony of 512 direct victims and points to other probable ones, estimating around 4815 victims of sexual abuse of minors, from 1950 to the present. It also points out several consequences of these crimes that may have been at the origin of immeasurable dramas and suffering that marked entire lives. It is an open wound that hurts and shames us.
We ask forgiveness from all the victims: those who courageously gave their testimony, silent for so many years, and those who still live with their pain in the depths of their hearts, without sharing it with anyone.
In your lives, perversity has crossed where it should not be. Your testimony is for us an alert and a request for help to which we do not want and cannot remain deaf. We are aware that nothing can repair the suffering and humiliation that has been caused to you and your families, but we are available to welcome you and accompany you in overcoming the wounds that have been caused to you and in recovering your dignity and your future.
Child abuse is a heinous crime. Those who commit them must assume the consequences of their actions and the resulting civil, criminal and moral responsibilities. It is necessary that they recognize the truth without hiding anything, that they repent sincerely, that they ask God and the victims for forgiveness, and that they seek a radical change in their lives with the help of competent people, in the certainty that the path of justice will always find a way in the kind heart of God.
This study by the Independent Commission presents us with a much larger number than the one we have been able to ascertain to date. We apologize for not having known how to create effective forms of listening and internal scrutiny, and for not always having managed situations firmly and guided by the priority protection of minors. We believe, despite everything, that change is happening and we owe that too, and a lot, to Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, to the action of the media, and to the new sensitivity that is growing within the Church and society in general.
However, if it is true that the Church cannot tolerate abuse, which is a total contradiction of our identity and our way of acting, it is also true that the life of the Church in Portugal does not end with this issue. There are many people and ecclesial institutions dedicated to the weakest, the most needy and the poorest, and the reality of abuses cannot make us forget the immense good, so often silent, of committed priests, religious and lay people in so many situations, to whom we want to give a word of comfort and courage.
The Portuguese Episcopal Conference, after analyzing in detail the final report of this study, will seek to find the most effective and appropriate mechanisms to encourage greater prevention and to resolve possible cases that may occur, with speed and respect for the truth. “Zero tolerance” for abuse needs to be a reality across the Church, so we will not tolerate abuse or abusers. In this sense, an Extraordinary Plenary Assembly has already been scheduled for March 3, which will be dedicated exclusively to the debate on this topic and the issues contained in the report now released, namely the recommendations that are made in it for the Church and for the entire society. At that time it will be possible to point out concrete measures to be developed.
In conclusion, I would like to address a word to Dr. Pedro Strecht who accepted our invitation to coordinate this study. I thank him and his team, which he formed in a completely free and autonomous way, for the work carried out over the last year. Your competence, dedication and professionalism allowed us, within the foreseen period, to reach a more concrete knowledge of the historical truth of the sexual abuse of minors within the Church in Portugal.
On the part of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, in absolute respect for the independence necessary for the whole process, we sought to ensure all the material conditions and made available all the means and sources of research so that the work could take place in accordance with the needs of the Independent Commission.
This is, therefore, a fundamental technical work that will help us to define, with greater rigor, a strategy for the future that seeks to prevent the repetition of any type of abuse, complementing with the action that has already been developed by the Diocesan Commissions of Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons and by the National Coordination Team of these commissions.
The Independent Commission finishes its work, but we need to be capable of continuing to “give voice to the silence” of the weakest, contributing to a culture of transparency, not only in the Church, but throughout society, doing justice to the identity and mission of the Church for the safety and well-being of vulnerable children, adolescents and adults.
Lisbon, February 13, 2023
D. José Ornelas Carvalho,
Bishop of Leiria-Fátima and President of CEP