The Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church has received 512 validated testimonies relating to 4.815 victims since it took office in January 2022, coordinator Pedro Strecht announced today.
The same official announced that, of these 512 validated testimonies, 25 cases were sent by the Commission to the Public Ministry.
The commission, which began collecting testimonies on January 11, 2022, in a press conference this morning, also defended the creation of a new “commission for the continuity of the study and follow-up of the theme”, with internal and external members of the Church.
The Commission led by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, who today presented in Lisbon the report of a year of work and which focused on the period since 1950, recommends “the recognition, by the Church, of the existence and extent of the problem and commitment to its adequate future prevention ”, namely through “compliance with the concept of 'zero tolerance' proposed by Pope Francis”.
The adoption of the “moral duty of denunciation, on the part of the Church, and collaboration with the Public Prosecution Service in cases of alleged crimes of sexual abuse”, the “effective request for forgiveness regarding situations that happened in the past and their materialization”, as well as the “continued and external training and supervision of members of the Church, namely in the area of sexuality (yours and that of children and adolescents)”, are other recommendations that the commission leaves to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Portugal.
The commission advocates the “cessation of closed physical spaces, individual, as places of meeting and religious practice”, along with the putting into practice of “effective preventive measures, including 'manuals of good practices' and 'places to support the witness and accompaniment victims and their families'”.
The “continued psychological support to past, current and future victims” is also seen as a responsibility of the Church, in conjunction with the National Health Service.
As for civil society, the Commission also leaves some advice, such as “carrying out a national study on sexual abuse of children in their various spaces of socialization”.
The “unequivocal recognition of the Rights of the Child”, the “empowerment of children and families on the subject: the role of the School”, the “increase in the age of the victim for the purposes of prescribing crimes” and the “speed of the evaluation and response of the justice system”, are other ideas left by the commission led by Strecht.
This working group also underlines the need to “strengthen the role of the media in researching and dealing with the topic” and “increase emotional literacy on the true needs of child and youth development, especially in the affective and sexual field”.
Prescription of crimes should increase to 30 years of victims
The Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church also suggested that the statute of limitations for crimes of abuse be increased to 30 years of age for the victim, asking the Assembly of the Republic to change the law.
“There is a point that (...) has to do with Article No. 118 of the Penal Code, which says that the victim of a sexual crime, being a minor, can file a complaint until they turn 22. There is a suspension of the limitation period here, even if the limitation period has elapsed before the victim's 23rd birthday. This deadline is suspended”, said former Minister of Justice Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio, also a member of the Commission.
According to Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio, taking into account the age of the victims, the Commission reached the conclusion that the age should be increased.
“Given the difficulties [of the victims] in verbalizing, we came to the conclusion that this age should be increased. Hence, one of our moves is to increase this age to 30 years. (…) We only suggest that the Assembly of the Republic consider it and that it do so if it so wishes ”, she underlined.
Most of the 25 cases that the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church sent to the Public Ministry have already expired, announced today the former Minister of Justice Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio.
“Most [of the cases] have already prescribed”, Laborinho Lúcio later stressed, during the presentation of the Independent Commission report that since January 2022 has investigated the sexual abuse of minors in the Portuguese Catholic Church. The former minister added that the Independent Commission could not “keep these data in hand and not send them to the Public Ministry”.
According to Laborinho Lúcio, the Independent Commission does not have to make judgments and has no competence in the field. “We sent these types of cases to the Public Ministry. [Our] investigation seems relatively simple, along the lines of a traditional criminal investigation,” he stressed.
Led by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, the independent commission also comprises psychiatrist Daniel Sampaio, former Minister of Justice and retired judge Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio, sociologist and researcher Ana Nunes de Almeida, social worker and family therapist Filipa Tavares and filmmaker Catherine Vasconcellos.