LISBON: The Portuguese Catholic Church sexually abused at least 4,815 children since 1950, a new report has found.
The commission investigating the issue said on Monday that 77 percent of the perpetrators were priests and most of the victims were men.
“(We want) to pay a sincere tribute to those who were abuse victims during their childhood and dared to give a voice to silence,” head of the commission and child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht said. “They are much more than a statistic.”
Among other locations, Strecht said the children were abused in catholic schools, priests’ homes, and confessionals.
In October, the experts working on the report said it had recorded 424 legitimate accounts from presumed victims. They warned that their testimony indicated the number of victims was “much larger”.
The accounts found “serious situations which persisted for decades … and in some cases reached epidemic proportions”.
Thousands of reports of pedophilia with the Church have increasingly surfaced worldwide, putting more pressure on Pope Francis to tackle the issue.
Portugal’s independent inquiry, commissioned by the Church, began working on its report last year after an investigation in France revealed that about 3,000 priests and religious officials sexually abused more than 200,000 children.
The allegations have come from people of different backgrounds and countries as well as Portuguese nationals living in other countries.
Pope Francis, who is expected to visit Lisbon in August, may meet some of the alleged victims, the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon, Americo Aguiar, said recently.
Meanwhile, about 216,000 children are estimated to have been sexually abused by thousands of French Catholic priests, deacons and other clergy since 1950, an independent inquiry has found, alleging the phenomenon was covered up by a “veil of silence”.
The details made public on Tuesday are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.
Jean-Marc Sauve, head of the commission that compiled the report on the investigation, said the abuse in France was “systemic” and had been carried out by some 3,000 priests and other people involved in the church.
About 80 percent of the victims were boys.
Speaking at a public, online presentation of the report, Suave added that the Church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference for years”, protecting itself rather than the victims.
The Church not only failed to take necessary preventive measures, he said, but also turned a blind eye to abuse and sometimes knowingly put children in touch with predators. “The consequences are very serious,” Sauve said. “About 60 percent of men and women who were sexually abused encounter major problems in their sentimental or sexual life.”
Victims voiced their disgust over the findings.
“You are a disgrace to our humanity,” Francois Devaux, who set up victims’ association La Parole Liberee, meaning The Liberated Word, told church representatives at the presentation. “In this hell, there have been abominable mass crimes … but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children.”
Pope Francis thanked victims for coming forward. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)