Bishops analyze proposal in April for compensation for victims of abuse

The next meeting of the CEP Plenary Assembly will take place between the 8th and 11th of April, in Fátima

The Plenary Assembly of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP), to be held in April, will analyze a proposal for procedures with a view to financial compensation for victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Portugal, the CEP announced today.

In a statement, the Permanent Council of the CEP, a body chaired by the bishop of Leiria-Fátima José Ornelas, reported that, on Monday, some representatives of the VITA Group were present at that body's meeting, «to deliver a first proposal, requested by the Conference Portuguese Episcopal Church, of possible criteria to be followed in the attribution of moral reparation, in financial terms, to victims of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Portugal».

«Lines for the continuation of the dialogue initiated were drawn up, in order to configure a proposal for procedures involving the Diocesan Commissions for the Protection of Minors, which will be presented to the Plenary Assembly of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference», adds the statement.

The next meeting of the CEP Plenary Assembly will take place between the 8th and 11th of April, in Fátima.

In the document, the CEP emphasizes that «the Catholic Church in Portugal continues to express its total availability to welcome and listen to the victims on whom such harsh experiences were inflicted, through the VITA Group, the Diocesan Commissions or direct meetings with bishops in each one of the dioceses, and reaffirms its firmness in implementing a culture of protection and care for children, young people and vulnerable adults within the ecclesiastical sphere, also contributing to the dialogue on sexual violence against children in society in general».

Last Saturday, Rute Agulhas, coordinator of the VITA Group, told the Lusa agency that the proposal for financial compensation for victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church follows an autonomous model of processes developed in other countries and there are already eight victims who have submitted requests for compensation.

In an interview with Lusa, psychologist Rute Agulhas, who heads the structure created to accompany victims following the publication of the report of the Independent Commission for the Study of Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church about a year ago, assured that the CEP did not has been involved in the development of the proposal since submitting the request for its preparation at the end of last year, highlighting that the outlined model establishes the procedures, the criteria, who decides what and how in relation to the financial reparation process.

«It is a very thoughtful, well-founded proposal and the result of an analysis not only of this problem, but also of what has been happening in other countries, what has gone better and worse... There is not exactly an ideal model. And then, we have to think about the characteristics of the people of Portugal and also adapt to our reality", he said.

Rute Agulhas explained that the VITA Group analyzed other financial reparation processes in different contexts, such as the collapse of the Entre-os-Rios bridge, the Pedrógão Grande fires or the Casa Pia case, but also the paths taken by other countries in approaching to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

«We find here more parallels with some models from European countries than, for example, what happened in the USA, which is a reality that is also very distant and different from ours at all levels. But I can't identify a country, because that would be unfair and because we actually have key ideas from different models", he noted.

The VITA Group emerged following the work of the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church, led by pedopsychiatrist Pedro Strecht, which over the course of almost a year validated 512 testimonies of cases that occurred between 1950 and 2022, pointing out, for extrapolation, to a minimum number of 4.815 victims.