Bishops will review list of abusive priests, but do not guarantee removal | sexual abuse

Neither the immediate removal of the abusive priests and the bishops who covered them up nor a predisposition to financially compensate the victims. This Friday’s press conference was just over halfway through and the president of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP) was already being asked to react to the disappointment of those who saw the Church’s reaction to the sexual abuse “a hand full of nothing”. “For us, it’s not a handful of anything. For us, it is a hand that is full of commitments”, defended D. José Ornelas, to maintain that there are decisions that need “other interlocutors to be implemented”, so they will have to stay for second marriages.

With the announcement that a commission will be created to continue the work of the team led by the child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht (who estimated that around five thousand children were abused within the Church from 1950 to the present day) and that the Church will set up a memorial to the victims (possibly designed by the architect Siza Vieira), everyone’s attention focused on what the Church intends to do with the list containing the names of alleged abusers who are still active. But here, too, the order is to wait for culpability to be determined.

“We’re going to go name-by-name. But, within each diocese, it is each bishop who has to see, in the light of civil law and canon law, what appropriate measures to take”, explained the representative of the bishops, repeating that the list received a few hours earlier is nothing more than that. same: a list of names. “Being a list of names, without further characterization, it becomes difficult. Hence, this investigation requires redoubled efforts”, he explained, admitting that such people may be preventively suspended from functions “if there is plausibility regarding the danger in contact with other people and the persistence of possible crimes”. The same can be said for the risk of destruction of evidence.

Asked if he fears that more children are at risk of being victims of abuse, the president of the CEP assumed that yes. “I’m afraid, but I can’t remove someone from the ministry because someone came and said ‘This gentleman abused someone’. Who said it? In what place? When? Taking a priest out of the ministry is a serious thing,” he maintained. In short, the preventive removal of priests can only take place if the plausibility and veracity of the complaint is proven and if there is “danger of repetition or continuity” of the abuse.

About the removal of bishops that are pointed out as having covered up or helped to cover up crimes of sexual abuse within the respective dioceses, D. José Ornelas used similar precautions. “We do not condone situations like this, but neither do we embark on any accusation of cover-up”, he warned, noting that it is not a matter of the Church assuming any “defensive position” in relation to this, but of accommodating the difficulty in “finding the cases and see the truth of the facts”.

“The Attorney General’s Office itself [PGR] finds it difficult to deal with most of the cases that come to it, because it does not have enough elements”, he recalled, referring to the fact that the PGR has already archived nine of the 15 investigations initiated after the complaints that the outgoing independent commission sent it. “The very notion of concealment in Portuguese law is difficult to find”, he justified, repeating that “each case has to be studied”, that is, that “it is not enough to speak: data is needed to justify and give credibility to the accusations ”.

“There also has to be a solid basis for judging the morality and ethics of the decisions that have been made. If you have a case that is reported and the proper investigation is carried out and this is not plausible, it is clear that the case has no follow-up”, he repeated.

Because a significant proportion of the abuses reported in the report took place in the confessional, the bishops are preparing to reconfigure the environment in which the sacrament takes place, so that it is no longer “in closed, isolated environments”, but in an “accessible place lest there be occasion for further abuses.” As for the secrecy of confession, which was another of the recommendations left in the report of the independent commission, the question does not arise: “It is not and will never be on the table.”

Compensation will be borne by the abusers

Equally ruled out seems to be the possibility that, as has happened in several other countries, the institution is responsible for financially compensating victims who request it. “The issue of compensation is clear, both in canon law and in civil law. If there is an evil that is done by someone, it is that someone who is responsible”, declared the president of the CEP emphatically, thus pushing the problem onto the backs of the abusers. Further ahead, D. José Ornelas specified: “People who need help will get it, now compensation, just taking into account who it is. [o abusador] and for that a civil procedure is necessary and it is necessary that it be put in place.”

With regard to the guarantee of psychological or psychiatric support to the victims, the Church fully assumes this responsibility, and the operationalization of the treatment will be up to each diocese. “This is a priority for us. No one will lose access to treatment due to lack of means”, emphasized the representative of the bishops. It is not a question of the Church choosing the professionals it deems most suitable. “We are going to establish partnerships and we have institutions that have already expressed their willingness to do so. We are not saying it will be our doctors,” he explained.

As for the abusive priests, in relation to whom the members of the team coordinated by Pedro Strecht had warned that “spiritual accompaniment” is not enough, as pharmacological and psychiatric treatment is necessary, the president of the CEP was adamant: “We need not only to take care of people abused, but of the abusers. Because otherwise they are ‘wandering bombs’. And for that we need to find solutions ”, he declared, admitting that the treatment could benefit from the experience accumulated in some health units owned by religious congregations.

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