Portuguese experts to study sexual abuse in church, without investigating | Today Headlines

Portuguese experts to study sexual abuse in church, without investigating

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Lay leader of a new Portuguese Catholic Church committee on child sexual abuse urges victims to come forward, but stresses his group’s task is to investigate what happened, not to initiate formal inquiries

LISBON, Portugal – The secular leader of a new Portuguese Catholic Church committee on child sexual abuse on Thursday urged victims to come forward, but stressed his group’s task is to investigate what happened, not to launch formal investigations.

The Independent Committee for the Study of Child Abuse in the Church is due to begin work early next year. The six-person committee includes psychiatrists, a former Supreme Court justice and a social worker.

Pedro Strecht, a psychiatrist who heads the new national committee, said he wanted all victims to overcome their fear and reluctance and make contact, even though the abuse happened decades ago. He has promised anonymity to anyone who does.

“We call on all those who may have been the victims of these crimes to dare to speak out, to come forward finally and without fear of what has happened to them,” Strecht told a press conference, adding that the committee had not intend to launch criminal investigations.

Bishop José Ornelas, head of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, said he wanted the committee to work “without prejudice or cover-up” to “shed light on these painful situations in the light of justice and truth”.

The committee, which will report to the Bishops’ Conference, complements 21 local groups across the country that assess cases of child sexual abuse and is also made up largely of lay people, including lawyers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Two years ago, Portuguese church officials said authorities had investigated only a dozen allegations of sexual abuse involving Portuguese priests since 2001. More than half of those cases have been dropped because church investigators decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute them.

Ornelas, the bishop, declined to speculate on how many more cases could be discovered.

“I don’t know what to expect. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need to do so much work, ”he said.

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