Pope Francis Condemns Clergy Sex Abuse in Portugal and Engages with Victims

by Ryan Lee
Clergy Sex Abuse in Portugal

Pope Francis held a meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse in Portugal on Wednesday, sharply criticizing the country’s Catholic leaders for their handling of the scandal that has tarnished the reputation of the Catholic Church and has resulted in the alienation of many of its followers.

Francis directly addressed the crisis plaguing the Portuguese church on his inaugural day of a five-day visit to Lisbon, where he was scheduled to attend the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day festival. This visit coincides with a critical time for the Portuguese church; an investigative panel commissioned by Portugal’s bishops disclosed in February that clergy and church staff might have abused at least 4,815 boys and girls since 1950.

The Vatican announced that Francis spent over an hour engaging with 13 victims of abuse at the Vatican Embassy, describing the Pope’s role as intensely empathetic and attentive. The victims were joined by church officials responsible for child protection programs.

This meeting, similar to interactions with survivors on Francis’s previous foreign trips, was designed to assist the Portuguese clergy and congregation in grappling with their church’s own history of abuse and concealment, a process that many other European countries have similarly undergone.

In spite of the report’s alarming revelations, the response from Portugal’s bishops has, in some ways, exacerbated the situation. Church officials in Portugal had earlier asserted that there were only a few cases of child sexual abuse. However, after the report was published, bishops initially resisted removing the identified abusers from the ministry, stating that victims would be compensated only if legally required.

This meeting with the victims took place after a vigil service led by Francis for Portuguese clergy and nuns at the renowned Jeronimos Monastery in the capital. In February, hundreds of people convened at the Monastery to express solidarity with the victims of sex abuse after the release of the experts’ report.

Francis, speaking in his native Spanish, admitted that many clergymen and nuns in countries where Catholic parishes once flourished, now feel disheartened due to an increasing disconnection among their followers.

Bishop Jose Ornelas, head of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, pledged to Francis that they would focus “special attention on the protection of the welfare of children and the commitment to protect them from all forms of abuse.”

Despite criticism over the slow response, the bishops’ conference cited the Pope’s meeting with survivors as a testament to “the journey of reconciliation that the Portuguese church has been pursuing in this area.” The conference asserted that Portugal’s bishops were committed to “prioritizing the victims” and “cooperating” with victims concerning reparations and their healing process.

While the Portuguese Catholic Church had pledged in March to erect a memorial to victims during World Youth Day, this plan was abandoned a few weeks later. In response, advocates for the victims initiated a campaign named “This is our memorial.” A billboard erected in central Lisbon displayed “4,800+ Children Abused by the Catholic Church in Portugal,” a message funded by a successful crowdfunding campaign.

The responses to the Pope’s remarks on abuse varied; some pilgrims believed that the World Youth Day event was neither the time nor the venue to discuss the issue. However, others noted the Pope’s apology for the Church’s legacy of child sex abuse, viewing it as a demonstration of his commitment to resolving this problem.

On his visit to Lisbon for the fourth World Youth Day, Pope Francis continues to encourage young people to “create a stir,” reflecting his own transformative reforms that have unsettled the Catholic Church on a larger scale.

Pope Francis began his Portuguese visit at the Belem National Palace, and during his address, he invoked Portugal’s historical maritime expeditions, its position in Europe, and its spirit of openness. Amid global challenges, he implored the youth to step forward and forge a shared future.

“I dream of a Europe, the heart of the West, which employs its immense talents to settling conflicts and lighting lamps of hope,” said Francis.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Pope Francis’ condemnation of clergy sex abuse in Portugal

Who did Pope Francis meet during his visit to Portugal?

Pope Francis met with 13 victims of clergy sexual abuse in Portugal at the Vatican Embassy.

What did Pope Francis criticize about the Portuguese Catholic Church?

Pope Francis criticized the Portuguese Catholic Church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal, particularly their initial reluctance to remove identified abusers from the ministry and their decision to compensate victims only if legally required.

What did Pope Francis do during his five-day visit to Lisbon?

During his five-day visit to Lisbon, Pope Francis met with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, held a vigil service for Portuguese clergy and nuns, and attended the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day festival.

What were the findings of the expert panel report on sex abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church?

The expert panel report revealed that clergy and other church personnel in Portugal may have sexually abused at least 4,815 boys and girls since 1950.

What pledge was made by Bishop Jose Ornelas, the head of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference?

Bishop Jose Ornelas pledged to devote “special attention to the protection of the welfare of children and the undertaking to protect them from all kinds of abuse.”

More about Pope Francis’ condemnation of clergy sex abuse in Portugal

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ClaireBear August 3, 2023 - 4:24 am

It’s about time the church faced up to its mistakes… it’s been far too long and too many have suffered 🙁

Mark1985 August 3, 2023 - 4:17 pm

What’s happened is truly awful… but at least Pope Francis is trying to make things right. gotta give him credit for that

Sarah M August 3, 2023 - 9:34 pm

Dis is such a horrible thing to read. I can’t believe how much the victims must have suffered 🙁 Praying for them!

Annie24 August 3, 2023 - 9:40 pm

Pope Francis is trying to clean up the church’s act. but it’s still heart wrenching to think about the number of victims… we must never let this happen again.

JohnP August 4, 2023 - 12:04 am

good to see some action finally being taken, i hope the victims find some kind of peace in all this…


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