Three months after its creation, the commission investigating child abuse in the Portuguese Church continues its work despite obstacles. The team, promoted by the Portuguese Episcopal Conference and led by the child psychiatrist Pedro Strechthas positively assessed the collection of 290 testimonials so far -a key element for the investigation- although it recognizes the difficulties in capturing part of the victims, especially the oldest and with less access to information. Parallel, the researchers try to get the full cooperation of the bishops of the 21 dioceses of the countrysomething that they have not yet achieved in some cases.
“The contribution of the bishops of the Church is fundamental & rdquor ;, has assured the sociologist Ana Nunes de Almeida. “We have requested meetings with them to know the characteristics of the dioceses they coordinate, their understanding of the relevance of the problem and the organization of the archives of each diocese. Until today we have interviewed 11 of them, five have shown their willingness and another five have not yet responded & rdquor ;, he stressed. Something that has forced the president of the Episcopal Conference, José Ornelas, to guarantee shortly after that all the bishops will collaborate with the investigation, according to the media outlet ‘Observador’.
The difference in sensitivities on this matter among the bishops is something that the commission already had from the beginning, although as the investigation has progressed, the evidence of cover-up and concealment on the part of some religious who are still active, according to the researchers. Some names that the commission has not wanted to make public. Those responsible for the investigation have confirmed the incorporation of a scientific team to examine the archives of the dioceses, which will be essential to help compare information and clarify the facts.
Reach the ‘deep’ Portugal
Of the 290 testimonies collected to date, more than half reveal the existence of other victims. Something that has led the commission to recognize that the number of stories will be much lower than the real figure. This is due, according to Almeida, to the reservations of a part of Portuguese society, which continues in a “pre-modern” situation. “There are people who have no idea that what they suffered was sexual abuse“, explained the sociologist. The researchers insist on the need to reach what they qualify as the ‘deep Portugal’, referring to the older and rural areas of the country, in order to capture the as many testimonials as possible before the publication of the report, scheduled for the end of this year.
Although the aim of the research it is not the reparation of the victims by judicial means, the commission is in direct contact with the Prosecutor’s Office to send the cases that have not yet prescribed. For now, only 16 have been sent to the public ministry, according to the former Minister of Justice and member of the commission, Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio, who acknowledges difficulties in the judicial investigation. “Most of the testimonials we receive are anonymous, while in other cases the stories are very secretive. This makes the Prosecutor’s Office more difficult, since sometimes it is not known who the victim is, who the abuser is or on what dates the events occurred.
The profile of the victims
Despite the difficulties, the representatives of the commission assure that the methodology used has responded to the expectations raised at the beginning of the study. Among the collected testimonies are people of all educational levels -although people with higher education have a greater representation-, the number of men exceeds that of women, and the age groups cover people born between 1934 and 2009. The abuses were suffered between 2 and 17 years and they include touches, exhibitions, penetrations and the sending of images and messages by mobile.