SNAP reacts to report published by a Portuguese panel funded by the country's Catholic bishops
(For Immediate Release February 13, 2023)
Yet another report has been released that shows yet another country saw thousands of their children harmed and abused by priests, nuns, and other Roman Catholic staffers. Our hearts break for the families and survivors devastated by this abuse and hope that this report leads to secular reform that will better protect children.
According to a report published by a Portuguese panel funded by the country's Catholic bishops, approximately 5000 children were abused by Catholic clergy. According to the report, many of the molestation cases involved boys, and some of the victims were as young as two years old. One victim claimed he had been living in a "black hole" throughout his testimony. Our hearts break for him and for all the children who have endured years of abuse at the hands of adults who are supposed to be God's trusted representatives. We commend this survivor for sharing his experience.
While we are grateful that numbers have been released, it is beyond disturbing to learn there are no named abusers in the report. While we are glad that the panel is not publishing the names of the victims, we do believe there is a public interest in the identities of the alleged abusers and the places the abuses allegedly happened.
The panel is to send to bishops by the end of the month a list of alleged abusers who are still active in the church. This is a good step in theory, but church officials clearly do the bare minimum when it comes to protecting children. We call on church officials to prominently publish the name, photo, place of residence, and work history of abusive clergy, regardless of whether they are dead or alive, and we hope that the panel will review this information to make sure it is fully complete.
Additionally, we believe the commission's suggestion to raise the reporting threshold for crimes to 30 is unconvincing. Studies have shown that the average age at which a survivor comes forward is 52, and delayed disclosure is a medical fact. In our opinion, there should be no threshold at all for reports. Survivors should be empowered to come forward whenever they are ready and able, and secular law enforcement should be able to act on those reports instead of being time-barred by an arbitrary statute.
Based on other reports we have read, we view this information as the tip of the iceberg in Portugal. Investigation and intervention from secular authorities are the best way to root out ongoing abuse, discover historical cases, and bring healing and prevention to communities. To us, immediate action is needed, and it includes the dismissal of any bishop, chancellor, vicar general, or other church hierarchs who is complicit in what has happened. Without change at the top, nothing will change.
We are saddened, not shocked, that there may only be 30 instances brought to court. Until criminal and civil liability ends, keeping the molestation suspects hidden and, on the move, will be the church’s action. As we see it, learning about past crimes is only valuable if it prompts efforts that help stop sexual abuse and cover-ups in the future. We call on the secular authorities and prosecutors in Portugal to recognize that cover-ups are both common and illegal. Law enforcement may play a key role in defending the vulnerable and offering comfort to those who are suffering when they aggressively investigate these historical crimes. We urge Catholics to demand accountability from church authorities. Believe victims when they speak up and act on their requests.
CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected] 267-261-0578) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President, (814-341-8386 [email protected])
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)