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Portuguese Catholic clergy abused nearly 5,000 children over 70 years old

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A report by the commission investigating the case said on Monday that members of the Portuguese Catholic Church abused nearly 5,000 children over the past seven decades.

The report added that the findings were the tip of the iceberg as it identified at least 4,815 victims of child sexual abuse by members of the Portuguese Catholic Church – most of them priests.

“(We want to) pay a heartfelt tribute to those who were abused during their childhood and who dared to give a voice to silence,” said child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, who chaired the panel. “They are much more than a statistic.”

Strecht said the 4,815 cases is the “absolute minimum” for the number of victims of sexual abuse by clerics in Portugal since 1950.

Most of the perpetrators (77%) are priests and most of the victims are men, Strecht said, adding that they experienced abuse in Catholic schools, churches, priests’ homes and congregations, among other locations.

The majority of sexual assaults occurred when the children were between the ages of 10 and 14, with the youngest victim being just two years old.

Jose Ornelas, president of the Bishops’ Conference, attended the presentation of the final report and will respond to it later on Monday. The church had said earlier that it was ready to “take appropriate measures”.

Portugal’s Catholic Church was rocked last year by alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse, including by bishops still active in church roles. The committee said it was preparing a list of accused priests who were still working.

The Portuguese commission began its work in January 2022 after a report in France revealed that some 3,000 priests and religious officials had sexually abused more than 330,000 children.

Allegations of abuse came from people of different backgrounds, from every region of the country and also from Portuguese nationals living in other countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas.

The commission spoke with more than 500 victims, analyzed historical church documents and interviewed bishops and other clergy.

A total of 25 of the testimonies heard by the committee have been sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for investigation as all the others were committed more than 20 years ago and legal proceedings can no longer be initiated.

The commission said the law must be changed so that legal proceedings can be started for historic crimes committed 30 years ago.

The commission, which says it is independent, was funded by the Catholic Church.

Asked by Reuters in December 2021 if that could pose a threat to the commission’s independence, Strecht said he would be the first to walk away and denounce it if the church interfered in the process.

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