Cardinal O'Malley thanks Portuguese abuse survivors for speaking out

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An independent commission's report on the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church in Portugal "points to the urgent need to combat whatever fosters silence from those who have been impacted by abuse," said Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston.

Silence "impedes effective prevention and the administration of justice," said the cardinal, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

In a statement released at the Vatican Feb. 17, Cardinal O'Malley thanked the commission members and the Portuguese bishops who launched the study, but mostly the victims and survivors who came forward, many telling their stories for the first time.

"Our concern should first and foremost be with the victims, whose right to justice and to adequate care needs to be a common priority," the cardinal said.

The commission's report, released Feb. 13, examined the period of 1950 to 2022; all dioceses and religious orders were asked to carry out a survey of abuse cases in their archives, then commission members visited those archives. But they also relied on interviews with victims and family members who phoned a dedicated line for reporting abuse.

Based on interviews with 512 victims whose statements were "validated," the report estimated there were at least 4,300 victims of child sexual abuse by church workers, mostly priests, during the 72 years covered by the study. And, it said, 48.2% of the 512 interviewed said it was the first time they were telling anyone about their experience of abuse.

The survivors were asked what the church could do to make amends, the report said; the responses made it clear that "there is no possible reparation to the victims for what happened," although a high percentage did ask for a formal apology from the church and for a commitment to preventing future abuse.

Commission members also interviewed all but one of the Portuguese bishops and all the superiors or superiors general in the country. The official English summary of the report said that "the volume, intensity and seriousness of signals from the victims found no echoes in the testimonies of these elites" and that many of them said they had had no direct experience of handling accusations.

In his statement, Cardinal O'Malley thanked "the men and women who have given voice to decades of silence and have paved the way for a new moment in our church and in our society. We join in expressing sorrow to all those harmed by such a violation of human dignity and encourage anyone who has experienced similar crimes not to hesitate to report them to the competent authorities."

"Ensuring that robust policies are implemented throughout the church and that we can verify good practice and adequate codes of conduct for every bishop, priest, religious sister or brother, or catechist will provide a more secure environment for children and a more credible witness to the Gospel," the cardinal said.