Christians praying for sex abuse victims admit to ‘shame’


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Hundreds of Christians and lay people gathered, during this Wednesday night, in front of the Jerónimos Monastery, in Lisbon, in a prayer vigil in solidarity with the victims of sexual abuse by members of the Church. They admitted feeling “shame” for these situations. The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, Archbishop Manuel Clemente, was also present at the vigil, having joined in prayer.

In an action in which silence and candlelight symbolize their hope, many hundreds of Catholics, lay people and members of the Church joined a vigil tonight for children and minors who have been sexually abused by members of the clergy. They are essentially asking for forgiveness for the victims. “We felt that the report was not indifferent to us and we wanted to give our testimony. We wanted to give this testimony by making a public gesture of forgiveness,” Joaquim Costa, one of the spokespersons for the initiative, told reporters. We have to internalize the suffering of the victims as a first step towards transformation,” he pointed out.

As soon as the hand strikes 9:00 p.m., there is total silence: with candles lit, the prayer begins. Most people remain standing, but some are accompanied by a small folding stool. Those who join in gradually bring their own candle or are given one by someone from the group of lay people who organized the initiative as soon as they approach the monument.

This Ash Wednesday, there are several gatherings in Portuguese dioceses that, for one hour – from 9 to 10 pm – will be in total silence. They pray for the thousands of victims who have allegedly been abused by members of the clergy for more than 40 years. The cases were disclosed in the report of the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church, presented last week, and which will still be subject to consideration by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

“I think that all Portuguese citizens and society in general have an attitude of repudiation towards abuses. Here what’s more is that we feel a shame because we are members of the Church and because this obviously refers to abusers specifically, but abusers in situations of power, of authority in the Church,” Joaquim Costa pointed out, recalling that many of these situations didn’t happen in such a distant past.

“This is a gesture of prayer for those who suffer, as we say, the pain for the pain of others. But also of mercy and hope”, underlined Paulo Câmara, one of the subscribers of the initiative. Paulo Câmara, focused on the message conveyed by the silence of prayer, said it was not the time to talk about what the Church should do to respond to the problem. “What is at issue is that there must be a change,” he defended.

At this beginning of Lent, Angela Luís decided to join the silent vigil. “I reacted with some sadness to this debacle in the Church, but it’s something that didn’t defeat me. On the contrary, it made me stronger in prayer,” the 61-year-old Catholic told JN. “We are still in the beginning, let’s see what will emerge. I think this has made the Church more alert,” she pointed out.

Also present at the vigil were several members of the Chega parliamentary group, including André Ventura who said he attended as a Catholic and not as a political party.

It should be recalled that, since it took office in January 2022 and until it ended its work, the commission received 512 complaints concerning 4815 victims who had allegedly been abused. Twenty-five cases have been referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Following these reports, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) said Wednesday that opened 22 investigations, eight of which are under investigation.

Besides Lisbon, Porto (near Torre dos Clérigos), Braga (in front of the Congregados Church), Coimbra (in front of the Sé Nova Church), Santarém (near the Seminário Church) and Ponta Delgada (in front of the Colégio Church), among other cities, have joined this initiative.

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