During his visit for World Youth Day, the Pope will meet with victims of abuse in Portugal.
While not on the official schedule, it is reported that Pope Francis will meet with victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church when he visits Portugal in August 2023 for World Youth Day (WYD). In recent years, the local Church has launched an investigation to initiate a path of transparency in a tumultuous environment.
Portuguese Vatican journalist Aura Miguel, interviewed by I.MEDIA, says that the Pope will “certainly” talk about abuse during his stay in Lisbon. She believes that “these are subjects he won’t hesitate to address clearly.”
The planned meeting with victims, however, will be “discreet.”
“The victims have been contacted and are free to meet the Holy Father or not,” she explains.
The Vatican expert recalls that during the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney, Benedict XVI met with anonymous victims at the Nunciature. “Something similar could happen,” she says.
In early 2023, an independent commission appointed by the Church in Portugal issued a report on abuse committed by priests against young children between 1950 and 2022. Its year-long work concluded that at least 4,815 minors had been sexually abused during these years.
The team of six experts led by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht revealed that more than 500 accusations had been validated. Almost 60% of the abuse took place between the 1960s and 1980s. The commission denounced “truly endemic proportions” in certain regions. Of the perpetrators, 77% were priests. In most of the reported cases, the statute of limitations has passed, but 25 testimonies have been forwarded to the public prosecutor’s office, the local press revealed.
Among its recommendations, the commission suggested extending the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse of minors to the 30th birthday of the victims, as opposed to the 23rd birthday as the law stipulates today.
Controversially, it also recommended lifting the secrecy of confession “where there are overlapping clues.”
This issue has given rise to debate at the highest levels of government. At a hearing in Parliament on May 2, the Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, defended the seal of confession as “absolute.” The commission’s coordinator criticized the “very ambivalent” reaction of the Church to the report.
This independent commission “has done a demanding and intense job,” affirms Aura Miguel. But, she adds, “the way it chose to present the report and the conclusions it drew were a little sensationalist […]. It provoked a lot of reactions, a lot of criticism of the way they did it.”
“The Church has a dimension of mystery that many do not understand,” she argues.
Even so, she notes, “many recognize that other institutions in Portuguese life have not had the courage of the Church, which has appointed an independent commission, submitted to the work carried out by this commission, and shown it publicly to all.”
The Church’s response
Following publication of the report in question, the Church hierarchy in Portugal met at the Fatima shrine on April 20 for a time of prayer. “We acknowledge and present to the survivors of sexual abuse in our Church a profound, sincere, and humble request for forgiveness,” declared Bishop José Ornelas, President of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference.
On April 26, the bishops presented “Grupo Vita” (“Life Group”). It’s a new commission — headed by psychologist Rute Agulhas and made up of specialists — dedicated to receiving complaints and welcoming victims.