For the bishop of Beja, D. João Marcos, priests suspected of sexual abuse who demonstrate repentance and repair the acts committed may be forgiven by the Church. “We are all sinners, we are all limited, we all have flaws. This way of approaching is not very Catholic. In the Catholic Church there is forgiveness”, said the cleric, in statements to SIC.
In recent days, following the sparse response by the Portuguese Episcopal Commission (CEP) to the list of names of clergy suspected of child sexual abuse, compiled and delivered by the independent commission, the Church has had difficulty in being unanimous about what to do. Continue in office or preventively suspend active priests until everything is investigated?
Asked whether these cases should go to court, whether priests should be preventively suspended or whether “forgiveness” would be enough to clear priests suspected of these charges, the bishop of Beja admits that they are pardoned if they show repentance.
“If people are really sorry for what they have done, if they do penance and make amends for what they have done. If there is this new birth, which forgiveness offers us, that is important. We cannot devalue that”, said D. João Marcos. “Justice is like the structure that holds, that gives firmness, to this building that is charity, which is forgiveness, which is mercy”, he added.
On Sunday, the cardinal-patriarch of Lisbon, D. Manuel Clemente, stated that suspect priests can only be suspended preventively by order of the Holy See. However, both the auxiliary bishop of Braga, D. Nuno Almeida, and the rector of the major seminary in Coimbra, Father Nuno Santos, disagree with this view. And they assured, in statements to PÚBLICO, that the bishops not only have this decision-making power, but are even advised to use it in the instruction manual that the Vatican released in 2020 to help bishops and superiors of religious institutes to deal with this problem.
On Friday, in a press conference, the president of CEP, D. José Ornelas, put in the hands of each bishop what measures to take “in the light of civil law and canon law”.
In the list that was delivered on Friday by the independent commission to CEP and, therefore, to the dioceses, the bishop says there are “nine situations” involving suspected abuses in Beja. However, to SIC, D. João Marcos said he still did not have the names because he left the meeting early. As for what he will do with suspected clerics, he said he will look again at the situations. “Each case is different. The decision I take will largely depend on this second analysis of the cases,” he said.
D. João Marcos was one of the bishops that the independent commission pointed out as not having responded to the interview request made. The bishop of Beja later clarified that he had forgotten to respond, also stating that a stroke he suffered a few years ago left him with some injuries, including forgetfulness. But he also said he was available to collaborate and that the archives were made available for consultation by the independent commission.