It should be called Silenced Heart – Association of Victims and Survivors of Sexual Abuse of the Church and is the first Portuguese association to represent victims of abuse committed in the ecclesiastical environment. “Everybody speaks for us and we felt it was important to create an association that would effectively give us a voice”, Alexandra, one of the three founding members, told PÚBLICO – all victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of clergymen.
In addition to Alexandra, who lives in Coimbra and who prefers not to provide further details about her identity, the association is founded by Cristina Amaral, from Porto, and by António Grosso, from the south bank, in the Lisbon area. All gave testimony about the abuses they were victims to the independent commission that estimated that at least 4815 children were victims of abuse perpetrated by members of the Church, from 1950 to the present day.
For the time being, Alexandra prefers not to comment on the controversy surrounding the possible payment of compensation to victims by the Church. “It’s a topic we’ll have to discuss yet,” she explained. To RTP, Cristina Amaral explained that the intention is to ensure that the victims they have “a safe, impartial place where they can make their complaints and where they can be sure they will be supported in whatever they need”.
From the outset, one of the objectives of victims is to bring the stories of abuse survivors told in the first person to Pope Francis, who will come to Portugal at the beginning of August, during World Youth Day (WYD). Likewise, the members of the association have already sent a request for an audience to the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, according to RTP.
The Portuguese bishops decided to promote, on the 20th of April, a national day of prayer for “victims of sexual abuse, power and conscience in the Church”. The Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP) also announced the creation of a group – with names that will be chosen these days – “operative, with an autonomous nature, made up of people who guarantee credibility and trust in the face of the victims”, for the reception and follow-up.
As for abusers, Beja, the last of the 21 Portuguese dioceses to render public accounts for the list of alleged abusers received from the hands of the independent commission, revealed this Thursday that the list referring to the diocese contained five names, four priests and one layman, referring to to people who have died. In addition to these, the diocese confirms the existence in its archives of four other cases “denounced between the years 2001 and 2020”, which “deserved due and mandatory referral, both civil and canonical”. the lay state, in another the priest was acquitted. The third case would end up closed due to lack of evidence and, finally, the fourth case resulted in the expulsion from the local seminary of a lay person in formation for the priesthood, and, for these days, the case was judged in the District Court of Beja, “awaiting the sentence”, according to the communiqué.
Among active priests and others who have died, as well as lay people, there are almost 110 members of the Church identified as suspects by the independent commission, which crossed testimonies of the victims with the data obtained in the consultation made to the diocesan archives. By “the end of April”, according to the CEP, identical lists will be given to those responsible for congregations and religious institutes (Jesuits, Dehonians, Salesians…). From reading the report “Give voice to Silence” it is possible to count more than 80 victims of abuse in those 127 congregations and institutes.