Pope Francis lands in Portugal; SNAP responds
(For Immediate Release August 2, 2023)
Pope Francis has arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, where he will address one of the country's most devastating issues: sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The gravity of the situation was palpable as senior bishops listened to heart-wrenching stories shared by victims during a panel discussion last February.
In a shocking revelation, specialists recently disclosed on live television that a staggering 4,815 boys and girls, primarily aged between 10 and 14, have been victims of sexual assault by ordained, professed, and employed religious of the Portuguese Catholic Church since 1950. This announcement contradicted previous claims by high-ranking members of the church, who downplayed the extent of the abuse.
The response from the Portuguese Catholic Church has been criticized as inadequate and lacking urgency. Their slow and hesitant reaction prompted survivors to form Portugal's first advocacy group, demanding financial compensation on behalf of the victims. This further tarnished the church's reputation, which has already been marred by these heinous acts.
It is our hope that Francis’s visit is a significant step towards acknowledging the magnitude of the sexual abuse crisis within the Portuguese Catholic Church. We hope that he will openly discuss the issue and meet with survivors to foster a culture of transparency, accountability, and support within the church.
Upon arriving this week, Pope Francis said, “It is often accentuated by the disappointment and anger with which some people view the church, at times due to our poor witness and the scandals that have marred her face and call us to a humble and ongoing purification, starting with the anguished cry of the victims, who must always be accepted and listened to,”
We stand with those who have been abused and want to respect them and their families in Portugal for not giving up on telling the truth even though it was hard and church leaders denied it so strongly. Only those who suffered, and the families of loved ones lost, know the truth. Even though this papal visit is in answer to those who have been scarred, we know that it took a lot of courage for them to bring their pain and suffering to the Vatican and ask Pope Francis to visit them personally. We're proud of them, and we really think they've made history.
Sadly, it took the discovery of abuse of nearly 5,000 victims to trigger a response from the Vatican. We suspect that the number is much higher. The only way towards transparency is this: Everything must be revealed, including the names of the priests, nuns, deacons, brothers, and lay employees who guided this atrocity. The world needs to know which Cardinals, Bishops, and Popes participated close in, and from afar, in creating these crimes against humanity.
Some people may find the Pope's stay meaningful, but others may find it traumatic. Church leaders have taken decades to talk about any of Portugal’s dark parts of history. Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Director said, ‘Because Pope Francis's trip is getting a lot of attention, we can't help but wonder if any child on earth is safer now that a pope has arrived at the scene of a crime.
We believe the focus needs to be on stopping abuse, stopping bishops who continue the cover-up now and, in the future, not conveniently implying that a pardon equals healing. In our view, Pope Francis could meet with a thousand victims. But that wouldn't safeguard a single child.
Kids are safer when we admit that adults and children are still being abused by people in power when they are at a weak point in their lives. Still, thousands of church officials keep secrets about abusive priests, nuns, religious brothers, missionaries, and church members that police and prosecutors could use to find and prosecute the accused abusers. More importantly, victims need to know that law enforcement will listen to them so that justice can start to bring peace to their lives.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)