LISBON – When a panel of specialists learn aloud among the harrowing accounts they’d collected from not too long ago found victims of kid intercourse abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church, the nation’s senior bishops squirmed within the auditorium’s front-row seats.

Throughout a reside tv broadcast, the specialists reported in February that a minimum of 4,815 girls and boys had been abused since 1950, most aged 10-14.

Earlier than the gorgeous findings, senior Portuguese church officers had maintained there had been solely a handful of instances of clergy intercourse abuse. They misplaced much more credibility with a response so clumsy and hesitant that victims have been impressed to type Portugal’s first survivor advocacy group to press for compensation.

Pope Francis will wade into the quagmire of Portugal’s reckoning with its legacy of clergy abuse and cover-up when he arrives in Lisbon subsequent Wednesday to take part in World Youth Day, the worldwide Catholic youth rally. Whereas there is no such thing as a point out of the scandal on the pontiff’s official agenda, he’s anticipated to fulfill with victims throughout his go to.

Francis can even go to the shrine at Fatima, a rural Portuguese city that is among the Catholic Church’s hottest pilgrimage locations. In 1917, three Portuguese shepherd kids reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary above a tree there, a singular occasion of twentieth century church historical past.

Antonio Grosso, who says he was sexually abused at a former non secular shelter for boys in Fatima within the Nineteen Sixties, chafes on the distinction within the church’s strategy.

Church officers “don’t believe what victims tell them, but they do believe little children who say they’ve been listening to the lady above (a tree),” the 70-year-old retired financial institution worker says.

Portugal is the newest nation to confront a long time of abuse by clergymen and cover-ups by bishops and non secular superiors. But Portuguese church leaders appear to have discovered little from their fellow bishops within the U.S., Europe and Latin America who confronted related crises.

For the reason that report’s launch, the Portuguese hierarchy has flip-flopped over the potential – and nonetheless unresolved — problem of cost of reparations to victims. It has balked at suspending lively members of the clergy named within the report.

Anne Barrett Doyle of, a U.S. group that maintains a web-based archive on abuse within the Catholic Church, mentioned Portugal’s bishops had anticipated the impartial fee would assist them restore belief by revealing the historical past of abuse and cover-up whereas permitting them to “apologize, give assurances of reform, and move on.”

“Their plan backfired terribly,” she mentioned in an e-mail. “With its finding of nearly 5,000 victims and its startling claim of accused priests still in ministry, the commission turned out to be more independent than the bishops bargained for … It was a disastrous miscalculation.”

With the shocking results, church authorities at first argued that possible reparations were a matter for the courts, which in Portugal are backlogged and notoriously slow to reach decisions, often taking many years. Lisbon Cardinal Manuel Clemente said the church would do only what courts determined it must do.

“Everything that can be done in accordance with the law will be done according to the law,” Clemente explained. “But don’t expect us to do anything else, because we can’t do anything else.”

He and other officials also remarked that under Portuguese law, the perpetrator is liable for any compensation payments — not the institution to which that person belongs.

Clemente said it would be “insulting” to offer reparations to victims. Furthermore, he and other church officials claimed that none of the victims in an online questionnaire created by the commission of experts said they were seeking reparations. The commission told The Associated Press that’s not true.

By April, the church had softened its position, saying it didn’t rule out reparations. It promised to “make help available” for victims and said if convicted perpetrators couldn’t pay, the church would. Officials have not elaborated on those plans.

Clemente also claimed the Independent Committee for the Study of Child Abuse in the Catholic Church, a group of experts set up by Portuguese church authorities, had handed the church just a list of names of alleged abusers that was not backed up by factual evidence.

That comment irked the experts, who said they took pains to ground their findings and provide supporting documentation, including witness statements admissible in court.

Also, church authorities said active clergy named as alleged abusers could be suspended from their duties only after due legal process where they could present their defense, presumably in a courtroom. Officials, under public pressure, later suspended four of the two dozen priests identified in the report.

The church promised last March to build a memorial to the victims that would be unveiled during the World Youth Day celebrations. A few weeks before the pope’s arrival, in another embarrassment, it scrapped that plan and said vaguely that something would be done later.

Grosso, the abuse victim, says he and others were so “outraged and deeply upset” by the church’s response that they created a lobby group, called the Silenced Heart Association, to help victims obtain reparations. The group is also to provide psychological support and pro bono legal aid.

Grosso’s personal journey has taken him from would-be priest studying as a child at a Portuguese seminary to co-founder of the first church sex abuse victim association in Portugal. As a child, he says, he enjoyed Mass so much that he re-enacted it at home.

But between the age of 10 and 12, studying away from home, Grosso says he was sexually abused first by a priest and later by a Franciscan friar.

Wracked by guilt and trauma, for 10 years he never spoke to anyone about what had happened. As a teen, he had episodes of “rage, humiliation, shame,” he says. The upshot: a boy who wanted to be a priest became an adult atheist.

Only as a young adult did he begin to broach the subject with friends. He told his girlfriend, who became his wife. They had two daughters.

When Grosso publicly recounted his story in a 2002 Portuguese magazine interview, having felt encouraged to do so by revelations of church sex abuse emerging around the world, his then 27-year-old daughter Barbara sent him a handwritten letter. He has kept it folded up in his wallet for the past two decades. The letter salutes his courage and tells him his daughter is proud of him. Reading it aloud, he tears up.

He feels moved to act now, he says, because the church reacted with “contempt” to the torment of victims and is still trying to cover up the truth. He would like to see Pope Francis speak about the issue while in Portugal.

The church in Portugal has apologized for the abuse. It is working with Portugal’s main victims’ support association and is establishing procedures and tailoring its responses to sex abuse in the church. Staff at the World Youth Day are receiving specific training on how to prevent and spot abuse.

The problem, however, extends far beyond Portugal, says Barrett Doyle.

Portugal’s reckoning lags behind what has already happened in the United States, Australia, France and Germany, she said, but is on a par with the church responses in Spain and Poland and most countries in South America, Central America, and Africa.

“In other words, and sadly, the Portuguese hierarchy is not an outlier; it’s representative,” she said.


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