José Ornelas disagrees with PR on Church response to sexual abuse report | sexual abuse

The president of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP) said this Sunday that he disagreed with the opinion of the President of the Republic, who expressed disappointment with the Church’s response to the independent commission’s report on sexual abuse of minors. “Everyone has the right to be deceived or disappointed. I respect the President of the Republic a lot, I respect his opinion a lot. I don’t agree, but I respect it”, Bishop José Ornelas told RTP.

On Thursday, the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, declared himself disappointed with the CEP’s response to the report on sexual abuse of minors in the Portuguese Catholic Church and defended compensation for the victims. In an interview with RTP and PÚBLICO, previously recorded at Palácio de Belém, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa stated that “the position of the Episcopal Conference was a disappointment”, considering that it was late and “fell short in all the points that were important”.

Speaking today to the public channel, José Ornelas, who also leads the diocese of Leiria-Fátima, guaranteed that the Church is assuming its responsibilities in this process. “If someone carefully reads the communiqué we made, which means setting out directions, which is what was needed at the first meeting, saying that the Church does not assume responsibilities, no. It is clearly written there and that is what we are to do”, assured the president of the CEP.

The Church does not intend to “cover up anything”, the bishop also said, stressing that, in the case of a suspected person, “with clear identification and without this already meaning a condemnation, he must be withdrawn from the service he is doing”. “To identify people and to identify what they are suspects, it is necessary to have some solid data, if we are not going to carry out witch hunts”, he warned.

According to Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the structure that brings together the bishops of the dioceses in Portugal was immediately “below in time”, due to the delay in publicly reacting to the final report of the independent commission. “It fell short by not taking responsibility — for me it is the most serious thing”, continued the President of the Republic. “How is it that the Catholic Church does not respond for acts performed by someone who, in addition to invoking the office of faith, is a representative of a Church, certified, legitimate, mandated for its pastoral mission? How? It is incomprehensible”, he considered.

The Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse against Children in the Portuguese Catholic Church, set up by decision of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference and coordinated by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, validated 512 testimonies, pointing, by extrapolation, to at least 4815 victims. The testimonies refer to cases that occurred between 1950 and 2022, the time span covered by the commission’s work.

The commission delivered a list of alleged active abusers to the Portuguese Episcopal Conference. In the report, released in February, the commission warned that the data collected in ecclesiastical archives on the incidence of sexual abuse should be understood as the “tip of the iceberg”.

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