Seminarians Top Victims in Sex Abuse Dossier

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  February 14, 2023   

Portugal publishes bombshell report on predator priests abusing minors

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LISBON, Portugal ( - A bombshell report has revealed that the highest rate of clerical sex abuse in Portugal was perpetrated against seminarians in 25 minor, middle and major seminaries across the country. 

Child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht presenting the report

In its dossier published on Monday, the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church declared that the abuse took place in seminaries (23%), churches (18.8%), confessionals (14.3%), rectories (12.9%) and religious schools (6.9%). 

The report, which was presented at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, recorded that there were 4,815 victims of sex abuse over the past 70 years, noting that the figures are only the "tip of the iceberg" because most victims did not report the abuse to the Catholic Church.

Around 77% of cases involve the priest abusing his victims and the number of male victims (57.2%) is "significantly higher" than females (42.2%), the report stated. In 46.7% of the cases, the perpetrator was already known to the victim. 

The largest number of instances of sexual abuse took place from the beginning of the 1960s up to 1990, a period that accounts for 58.3% of the testimonies.

Abusers Go Free

The report found that in 65.8% of the cases, nothing was done to remove the abuser, 77% of the victims never made a complaint to church authorities or organizations and only 4.3% took their cases to court. In 58.5% of cases, victims mention that they knew of other cases of abuse.

When I suffered the abuse, my trust in God was a little shaken.

Abuser priests were sent on retreats; some were removed from their posts; some were transferred to another parish; some remained in their parish but under surveillance; a few were defrocked, the report recorded. 

The researchers, who produced the report under the direction of child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, estimated that the 512 who testified to the commission, knew of or were in contact with close to 4,300 other victims.  

Dr. Jules Gomes reports on the laicization of top friar and abuser Fr. Benoît-Emmanuel Peltereau-Villeneuve

Many of the complaints would have been dealt with informally and left no documentary trace, the researchers observed, with dioceses "purging the archives without respecting the norms imposed by canonical legislation." 

I presented the complaint in writing, by hand, but it took more than nine months for them to contact me.

Moreover, church correspondence used ambiguous terms to conceal sex abuse by recording clergy transfers within the country or abroad without giving reasons for the transfers or simply making vague references to the need to avoid public scandals, researchers pointed out. 

"The primary motivation of the hierarchies is to protect the Church's good name, by choosing to cover things up publicly (and possibly issuing warnings internally) and, in cases regarded as more serious, such as 'deflowering,' forcing agreements for the payment of compensation," the report noted. 

"The prevailing interpretation is that the Catholic Church is the aggrieved party, in cases which are made public, and this leads to antagonizing those who do not accept remaining silent. The victim's suffering is not at the heart of the measures adopted," it added. 

Most of the sexual abuse was perpetrated against minors aged 10–14, with the youngest victim being just two years old. 

Seminaries: Hothouses of Abuse

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Portugal was a poor country under a dictatorship, and a significantly high proportion of parents sent boys between the ages of 7 and 12 to minor seminaries, as "this was the only opportunity presented as a way to continue their studies," the report explained. 

While many boys reported a happy experience and a disciplined regime at Portugal's seminaries, multiple testimonies told of grooming and sexual abuse by priests in minor and major seminaries. 

Seminary of Olivais named in the report

Clerical sex abuse varied according to the gender of the victims, the report noted. The abuse included "manipulation of the sexual organs, masturbation, oral and anal sex as well as full copulation." Over the years, there was an increase in viewing child pornography.

The report recorded testimonies of women who were abused by priests in confessionals when they were at school. Priests asked them questions about masturbation, engaged in exhibitionism and forced them to perform acts of oral sex, the victims testified.

Nun Raped

The commission received the testimony of a nun who was raped by a priest when she went for confession on "study days" organized by her congregation. "Alice" (a pseudonym) said that the bishop, who continues in office, refused to believe her story. 

"I presented the complaint in writing, by hand, but it took more than nine months for them to contact me," Alice told Portuguese media 7Margens. "Finally, they called me, they interrogated me, I waited a few more months until they started the process, which was finally sent to the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith."

He fed me a narrative according to which 'this was the way to be in union with the divine.'

The priest threatened to file a defamation suit against her if she revealed his name, Alice said. 

"When I suffered the abuse, my trust in God was a little shaken. Then I realized that God is not to blame and that it made no sense to distance myself from him, because he was a person who did this on his own initiative. It didn't make sense to give up my faith, and I needed faith to help me get through it on a day-to-day basis," Alice recounted.

Patriarch of Lisbon Cdl. Manuel Clemente

A potential seminarian testified how a priest took advantage of "confession to harass me" and "to justify sexual practices of a homosexual nature" that included the display of genitals, manipulation of sexual organs and masturbation.

"He fed me a narrative according to which 'this was the way to be in union with the divine,' justifying it with the celibacy of priests in the Church," the victim reported. "He paid me for books, clothes, bracelets, trips and vacations and offered furniture to my parents."

Researchers found that "a recurring theme was that what was happening had a 'divine purpose' which consequently needed to be fulfilled." 

In most cases, victims stressed that after the abuse had occurred, they were expressly asked or ordered to "keep it secret," with abusers commonly resorting to various forms of blackmail, often by threatening to reveal the child's behavior to family members or friends.

The priest threatened to file a defamation suit against her if she revealed his name.

Victims said that doing away with compulsory celibacy, integration and participation of women in religious practice and hierarchy and the ending of certain forms of contact with believers, such as confessions in physically confined spaces, would help to address clergy sex abuse.  

Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho, head of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, told a news conference that the revelations were an "open wound that hurts and shames us." 

"We apologize to all the victims," Ornelas said, announcing a special meeting of Portuguese bishops on March 3 to discuss implementing "more efficient and appropriate mechanisms" to prevent future abuses.

Public prosecutors are investigating Ornelas for covering up sex abuse at an orphanage in Mozambique in 2011. He denies any wrongdoing.

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