Manuel Clemente completes 10 years in the Patriarchate with replacement on the near horizon

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Next Thursday, July 6, the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon will complete 10 years at the head of the Patriarchate, days before his 75th birthday, the canonical age for resignation, and is expected to be replaced in the coming months.

While it is true that the Pope, in the absence of serious health problems, can keep a bishop in office for a year or two beyond the age of resignation, in the case of Manuel Clemente the short-term replacement is taken for granted, since it was he himself who, at this year’s Chrism Mass, on April 6, expressed his conviction that it would be the last one he would preside over as patriarch.

The conviction that this will be the case is common to many diocesan Catholics in Lisbon, where movements to draw the profile considered adequate for the future holder of the diocese are not absent.

In this sense, at the end of May, a group of Lisbon Catholics even sent a letter to the Vatican, defending that the next patriarch be “a bishop focused on the essentials” with an “attitude of closeness and care (…) with everyone”, especially the “poorest and most vulnerable”.

In the letter, the signers – among them journalist Jorge Wemans, and the leader of the letter that called for an independent investigation into the abuses within the Church, Nuno Caiado – defended that the new bishop “be the image of the Good Shepherd” and have “the attitude of closeness and care of Jesus Christ with everyone, especially with the poorest and most vulnerable, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, not from above, but involving them” and that he be “a free and humble bishop”, with “movements of a simple shepherd and not of a prince”.

As for names, several have been publicly pointed out, from Américo Aguiar (auxiliary of Lisbon and president of the WYD Lisbon 2023 Foundation) to Francisco Senra Coelho (Évora), passing through Virgílio Antunes (Coimbra) or Nuno Brás (Funchal), but it is known that it is often the surprise that marks the Vatican’s decision.

It is known, however, the opinion of Manuel Clemente, who, in the summer of 2022, in an interview to Rádio Renascença, defended that Lisbon would need “a bishop to match the youth”.

And it is the youth that will mark the great moment of this decade of Clement’s leadership of the Patriarchate, with the holding, from August 1 to August 6, of the World Youth Day that could bring together more than a million young people from around the world for a meeting presided over by the Pope.

These days of celebration in August, however, will not erase the marks of the last year and a half, when the cases of abuse in the Patriarchate jumped into the public domain and affected the image of Manuel Clemente, who, according to the newspaper 7Margens, in a meeting in the Vatican with Pope Francis on August 5, 2022, will have left in the hands of the pontiff the possibility of being replaced in office even that summer.

At issue was, first of all, a case that occurred in 1999 and recovered in late July by the Observador newspaper, reporting that the current patriarch “was aware of a complaint of sexual abuse of minors concerning a priest of the Patriarchate and even met personally with the victim, but chose not to report the case to civil authorities and to keep the priest in active chaplaincy functions.

“In addition, the priest continued to run a private association where he welcomes families, young people and children, with the knowledge of Bishop Manuel Clemente. All because (…) the victim, who claims to have suffered the abuse in the 1990s, did not want her case to be public and only wanted the abuse not to be repeated,” the newspaper reported.

Clement, then, assured, in an open letter, that “from the first hour” he gave instructions in the Patriarchate “so that Zero Tolerance and Total Transparency are the rule known to all” regarding the abuse of minors and sought to clarify what “he witnessed” in the case of the priest accused of abuse reported in 1999 to the former patriarch, José Policarpo, and said he accepted that “this case and others of public knowledge and that were handled in the past, do not correspond to the standards and recommendations that today” everyone wants “to see implemented.

Along with this, other cases of suspected abuse in the Patriarchate have been reported, and as early as March of this year four priests were suspended from ministry, one of whom has since been allowed to return to his duties.

On more than one occasion the patriarch has asked for forgiveness from the victims of abuse, such as on April 6, when he made a point of emphasizing that this request was “institutional and convinced” as the holder of the Patriarchate.

The truth is that the issue of abuse has impressively marked Cardinal Manuel Clemente’s last months in the Patriarchate, further echoing the statements made in March when he considered it “insulting to the victims” to talk about compensation.

And it is with these last months of a charged atmosphere, that, after July 16 and the letter of resignation that he will address to the Pope, the Cardinal of Torres Vedras, a doctorate in Historical Theology, Pessoa Prize, awarded in 2009 for “his civic intervention” that had “stood out for a humanistic stance of defending dialogue and tolerance, fighting exclusion and social intervention of the Church,” will enter a period of waiting, until the Vatican releases him from office.

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