“Enough of the silence.” It was with these words that Alexandra Costa and Mariana Jerónimo, mother and daughter, joined this Wednesday the silent vigil in front of the Jerónimos Monastery, in Lisbon. It was not yet 9 pm, the time set for the beginning of the prayer called by a group of Catholics, and already a few dozen people were gathered in front of the monument. In a few minutes there were already hundreds.
Candles were not forgotten and were distributed by those arriving. “Would you like it?” asked one of the vigil participants as she moved among the Catholics. Candles were lit one after the other and passed to those who attended the vigil that night to express solidarity with the estimated 4815 victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Portugal.
For Alexandra Costa it is easy “to separate the faith from the hierarchy of the Church”, she says. “I can express my faith without having to go to Mass and listen to a priest preach hypocrisy.”
“Sexual abuse is nothing new and the hierarchy, the men, of the Church have been conniving with these situations that have been going on for decades”, argues Alexandra Costa. “Everyone already knew, they chose to ignore it”, completes, in turn, the daughter.
If for the family this reality had been uncovered “for decades”, knowing it was, for Domingos Coelho and Marta Boavida, a surprise. “I didn’t know this reality, I’m not aware of anyone in my environment who has been a victim of these abuses”, asserts Marta Boavida.
They say that faith is not weakened, but rather strengthened. “It is an evil that exists everywhere, in all of society”, explains Domingos Coelho. “I came to demonstrate my total solidarity with the victims of these crimes, to support them spiritually and to show that we didn’t want anything to happen to our brother or a son either.”
And Marta Boavida adds that it is with sadness that she looks at the report published by the independent commission, “mainly for crimes committed against minors, who try to follow the example of their elders”.
The hope for both is that the investigation follows its “legal course”, but there should be a focus on prevention and training so that reports like those revealed are not repeated.
These changes had already been praised, minutes before, by Alexandra Costa and Mariana Jerónimo, who called for a stronger role for women in the Church and a review of the celibacy of clerics.
The idea of the vigil in Lisbon came from a group of Catholics and quickly spread to other parts of the country, such as Porto, Coimbra, Braga, Santarém and Ponta Delgada. In Porto, there was also a vigil with the Clérigos.
According to the organization, the meeting was scheduled to show the shame uncovered with the disclosure of the report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Portugal.
The independent commission’s report was released last week and it is estimated that at least 4815 children have been victims of sexual abuse by members of the Church over the past 72 years, with 512 validated testimonies.