Pedro Strecht: “The victims of abuse do not want compensation, but to talk about their suffering”

Portugal has been investigating for almost two months the child abuse committed in the Church since 1950. To this end, the Portuguese Episcopal Conference has commissioned the creation of a independent commission, made up of psychiatrists, lawyers and sociologists, who will try to collect as many testimonies as possible through the internet, phone calls and face-to-face meetings. The objective is to complement these testimonies with the access to church archives -which depend on the bishops of each diocese- and with information published in the press to write a report at the end of this year. The coordinator of the commission, psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, assures EL PERIÓDICO that the purpose of the report is not to make a detailed account of the cases or offer compensation, but to give the victims a space so that they can tell their story and feel accompanied.

What assessment do you make of the first months of work?

For now the assessment is positive. I believe that the Church has taken an important step with the creation of this commission so that what happened is known. And what we value most is that she has not put any obstacles to our work. In less than two months we have collected more than 250 testimonies and, although it is true that we had an initial peak and that the number of complaints has been falling since then, we are already managing to classify the victims, the abusers, the ages and the ways in which the events occurred.

And what have they been able to verify so far?

For now, more than half of the testimonies assure that their abuser also attacked other victims, which confirms that the profile of the abusers is that of repeat offenders. In some cases, the victims mention other people who suffered abuse by name and surname, but in other cases they give approximate indications, which will make it difficult to make a statistical assessment. We have also seen that the proportion of complaints from men and women is very similar, although from the outset we could think that the victims were mostly men.

The Episcopal Conference has shown its willingness to open the historical archives of the Church, something that will be essential to contrast the testimonies. But the final decision rests with the bishops of each of the 21 dioceses. Do you fear that someone will put some impediment?

We have always emphasized the importance of accessing the historical archives of the Church. We know that there are different sensitivities in each diocese but we have already started contacts with each of them, not only to get to know each other better but also to build a relationship of trust. It is important that each diocese help us clarify how many cases there have been, what has become of the abusers or how many children have been affected. The opening of the files will be a very important part of clarifying all this in our report.

In Spain, the possibility of opening a parliamentary commission to investigate the abuses is being considered. Do you think it is a good option?

Creating just one parliamentary committee seems complicated to me because there is a risk that in a Parliament with a left-wing majority, the right-wing victims will not feel identified, and vice versa. If it is done in a complementary way to other investigations, it can be positive. In any case, each country has to see which solution is most appropriate considering its structure.

For now, the Spanish Church has already commissioned an independent audit from a law firm.

This option emphasizes only the legal part, that is, to clarify if people want to file a formal complaint and to study if the cases have prescribed or if the victims want some compensation. In our research we are seeing the opposite. The people who contact us do not want compensation or legal action, but to talk about their pain and suffering, to tell their experience and to feel that they are not alone. They seek a remedy in generic terms and not a legal remedy, much less an economic one.

But do they contemplate the option of paying compensation to the victims?

For cases that have not prescribed or that need further investigation, we have an already established collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic to take charge through the judicial process. In the area of ​​compensation, our work is only indicative, although we can refer victims to institutions such as the Portuguese Association for Victim Support, which have legal structures to respond to these issues. In the cases that have already prescribed, the victims would have to deal with the Church itself, although so far we have not come across people asking for compensation.

Taking into account the number of testimonials and the size of your team, which is six members, are you going to give them time to finish the report on time?

It is proving to be a bigger challenge than we had anticipated. We may have to expand the team, but we don’t want to bring in too many people for fear of possible information leaks. One year is a short period but I think it is important to define the time limit because, otherwise, the victims may think about telling their experience later. In Portugal we have had experiences of commissions that we know when they start and never when they end. Doing it all is hard, we may leave doors open for other people to go deeper into some areas of our report.

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Are you going to include in the report the names of the perpetrators and the people who could have covered them up?

It is true that many people may think that once the report is finished everything will remain the same, but it does not seem appropriate to us to name names without each case being duly investigated and documented. At the end of the report we will send the list of names to both the Church and the Prosecutor’s Office, which will decide whether to open an investigation or not. We also plan to leave some recommendations such as, for example, the convenience or not of the Church publicly assuming these matters, the end of compulsory celibacy or the acceptance of all sexual orientations in Catholicism. We do not want only to confirm facts, but also to think about the future.

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