The Church forgot about the victims again | Opinion

Yesterday’s communiqué from the Church was not surprising, but at the same time disappointing once again. Concern for the well-being of the victims was not present in D. José Ornelas’ speech. Equally serious, from my point of view, is the tone of disbelief regarding the victims’ testimonies and denunciations. The president of the Portuguese Episcopal Commission (CEP) made it clear that they cannot suspend a priest just because a complaint of sexual abuse has been made. He also advanced that it is necessary to know who is complaining, the circumstances and a series of other aspects.

Regarding the complaints, D. José Ornelas used the myth of false accusations to justify the Church’s inaction regarding the suspension of alleged abusers. Let’s demystify, right now, the belief in false accusations: only 3% or 4% are false. They are residual numbers. The reality is that it is risky for victims to report an abuser.

It is common for victims to be scrutinized for having reported and questioned about their actions (for example, “Why didn’t you speak up before?”, “Why only now?”, etc.), while the abuser is left out of this questioning. Here, the Church’s discourse and actions are contradictory. If, on the one hand, through the Independent Commission, the Church asked victims to break their silence and speak about their stories of sexual abuse — and it is important to bear in mind that these were traumatic events whose dantesque descriptions we were able to watch in the public presentation of the final report —, on the other hand, it completely devalues ​​the testimonies and denunciations made.

It is a dissonant position to say the least, and at this point, there can be no room for ambiguities. The Church is either with the victims or it is not. When watching this speech, it is natural for victims to question whether they gave their testimony. Was it worth digging into a painful past?

What psychological support can we expect?

The measures released by the CEP were not clear. No real, concrete proposals were presented, with clear objectives and a timetable for them. Psychological support is an example of this, since no aspect of its operationalization has been implemented.

Sexual abuse has a systemic dimension, and the silencing of cases and the protection of abusers was structural. Measures and responses have to break with the culture of self-protection that the Church demonstrates. In this sense, it was expected that clear objectives would be presented. How much longer will the Church need to come up with a detailed and timed plan?

In January 2022, the first testimonies were received. How much longer will these victims have to wait to get the psychological support they deserve and need? Rummaging through traumatic memories can be a highly painful experience that can lead to re-traumatization. From the beginning, I questioned this point: if a victim, after giving his testimony, went into a crisis and had suicidal ideation, whose responsibility would it be? Who could this victim ask for support, since this was not the purpose of the commission? What responsibility does the Church have towards victims who saw the suffering caused by abuse intensified and who had no one to turn to for help?

D. José Ornelas spoke vaguely about the creation of psychological support, but it is not enough to create just any support. The psychological follow-up of survivors of sexual violence has to be highly specialized in sexual abuse and trauma. This support had to have been safeguarded right at the beginning of the Independent Commission, but there is still no clear proposal of when it will be made available or who will follow up. Once again, the welfare of the victims continues to be relegated to the background.

The conference of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference was another missed opportunity for the Church to reinforce that it is with the victims, and that it is truly working to repair the damage caused by the sexual abuse that occurred in its institution. It seems that the Church has reached the limits of its understanding of these matters, and this is truly worrying.

If any other entity, such as a sports organization or a private institution of social solidarity, replicated the same discourse and position of self-preservation, it would not be acceptable. Why is the Church allowed this freedom?

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