Day without memorial for victims of sexual abuse

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The memorial in honor of the victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Portugal will not be presented at the World Youth Day (WYD), contrary to what was announced, because “it is still under study,” said a source of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP).

The announcement of the creation of a memorial to be presented at WYD was made on March 3, at the end of the Extraordinary Plenary Assembly of CEP which served to analyze the results of the study on sexual abuse in the Church in Portugal carried out by the Independent Commission led by child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht.

On the occasion, the president of CEP, José Ornelas, assured that the theme of abuse would be highlighted during WYD with a memorial in the space of reconciliation [Forgiveness Park], considered “the right place” for the purpose.

The bishop of Leiria-Fatima confirmed then that the Independent Commission’s idea for the construction of a memorial had been “fully accepted”, with the architect Siza Vieira as the author.

After WYD, the memorial would be “perpetuated in a space outside the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference,” according to the final communiqué of that Plenary Assembly of CEP.

Today, questioned by the Lusa agency about the process of creating the memorial, a source from CEP said that the project “is still under study and, therefore, will not be presented during WYD,” advancing that “as soon as it is completed and there is a new date,” a note will be released.

“Any other evocation to victims of abuse during WYD week that exists will be made public in due course,” the same source added.

The creation of the memorial and its presentation during WYD, which will take place in Lisbon between August 1st and 6th, was not consensual from the start.

The president of the Lisbon 2023 World Youth Day Foundation, Bishop Américo Aguiar – whom Pope Francis will elevate to cardinal on September 30 – considered, in a joint interview with Público and Rádio Renascença on March 14, that the memorial “is not the happiest way” to commemorate the victims, admitting that the idea caused him some “discomfort.

“I don’t know if it’s the happiest way to materialize the respect, the ‘mea culpa’ and the ‘zero tolerance’ [called for by Pope Francis for abuse cases]. I don’t know if it’s the happiest way to do it, especially when, in these things, the day passes, the pilgrimage passes, and after a while someone doesn’t know what that is anymore. I don’t know if it’s the most positive expression of what we can and should do,” said the main organizer of WYD Lisbon 2023.

In February of this year, the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse against Children in the Portuguese Catholic Church announced the validation of 512 testimonies of alleged cases of abuse in Portugal, extrapolating at least 4,815 victims. Twenty-five cases were sent to the Public Ministry, which opened 15 inquiries, nine of which were filed.

The testimonies refer to cases that occurred between 1950 and 2022, the time frame covered by the commission’s work.

In the report, the commission warned that the data collected from church archives on the incidence of sexual abuse “should be understood as the ‘tip of the iceberg'” of this phenomenon.

Following these results, some dioceses have cautiously removed priests from ministry.

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