LISBON, Portugal ( Associated Press) – A committee investigating historic child sexual abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church said Tuesday that it received witness statements from 290 alleged victims in its first three months of work, including children under the age of two. cases were included.
Pedro Strache, the head of the independent committee for the study of child abuse at the church, said more than half of the reported cases suggested that many more victims were involved.
The six-person committee, which includes a psychiatrist, a former Supreme Court judge and a social activist, began its work in January at the behest of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference. It promises anonymity to anyone who comes forward.
Strache said the committee had received indications that church officials, including the current bishop he did not name, had sought to cover up the abuse.
“It was often a matter of moving the abuser from place to place, such that the location was seen as the key factor at the time, not the actual person,” Strache said.
The committee said it had asked all 21 bishops of Portugal to be interviewed to discuss their work. Only 12 have agreed to the meeting and five have not replied.
Anna Nunes Almeida, a sociologist at the University of Lisbon and a member of the committee, told a news conference that the charges filed so far pertain to abuses against minors between the ages of two and 17.
He said there was a wide variety of alleged abuse, ranging from indecent exposure and imagery of abuse to penetration.
The alleged incidents occurred while the minors were in the care of the church, which included affiliated groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Catechism study group. Most of the alleged victims are men.
Retired judge Alvaro Lebarinho Lucio said the committee had passed 16 cases to the public prosecutor’s office. He said the statute of limitations had expired on most of the alleged cases, which were reported by people up to the age of 88.
The committee noted that the youngest person to be accused of abuse was born in 2009.
“Over the years there have been clear situations of serious sexual abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church,” said Lebarinho Lucio.