The head of a lay committee charged with investigating historical child sexual abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church said on Tuesday that the problem in the past had been “widespread” and had on some occasions reached “really endemic”.
Pedro Strecht, a psychiatrist who heads Portugal’s Independent Committee for the Study of Child Abuse in the Catholic Church, said his panel had compiled a list of 424 alleged victims. Before the committee began its work in January, senior church officials said only a few cases had occurred.
The panel, which was set up by the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, examines alleged cases of abuse from 1950 to the present involving minors between the ages of 2 and 17. He is due to release a report on January 31.
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Information obtained so far indicates that “a significant number” of priests and members of the Catholic Church have allegedly committed sexual abuse since 1950, Strecht told a press conference in Lisbon, adding that “the problem not only existed, it had also spread”.
He said the further his panel went back in time, the more he uncovered “serious situations that have lasted for decades (and) in some places have reached truly rampant proportions.”
The victims were both boys and girls, although most were boys, he said.
Some alleged attackers have been named by more than one victim, and hundreds of attackers have been identified, Strecht said. Alleged abuse includes indecent exposure, penetration and images of abuse.
The statute of limitations has expired for most of the allegations. Apart from that, 17 complaints have been forwarded to the Portuguese Attorney General’s office and another 30 could still be sent, Strecht said.
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The panel does not publish the names of victims, the identities of alleged abusers or the locations where the abuse allegedly occurred. However, its final report will include a separate – and confidential – appendix of all the names of church members reported to the committee which will be sent to the Portuguese Episcopal Conference and the police.
Strecht said the panel had no information about abuses by foreign priests.
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The committee interviewed all the bishops of Portugal. Strecht praised the Portuguese Episcopal Conference which he said showed “pioneering courage” in setting up the study.