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Portugal’s Catholic bishops approve independent clerical abuse commission

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. / Kate Veik/CNA.

Fatima, Portugal, Nov 12, 2021 / 03:30 am (CNA).

Portugal’s Catholic bishops said on Thursday that they have approved the creation of an independent commission to investigate clerical sexual abuse.

The bishops announced the decision on Nov. 11 at the end of their plenary assembly at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

Acknowledging the work of diocesan commissions, they said they had decided to create a national commission “to strengthen and expand the care of cases and their accompaniment at the civil and canonical levels.”

The commission will also “make a study in order to establish the historical background of this serious issue.”

Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho of Setúbal, the bishops’ conference president, told journalists on Nov. 11 that the commission would have “real independence.”

“We will do everything to fully clarify this issue. So, whatever we need to do, let’s do it, I have absolutely no doubt about it,” he said, according to Agência Ecclesia.

Ahead of the Nov. 8-11 bishops’ meeting, more than 200 Catholics sent a letter to the bishops’ conference (known by its Portuguese initials, CEP) calling for an independent investigation into clerical abuse.

The letter, also shared with the apostolic nuncio to Portugal, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, said: “We strongly urge the CEP to align itself with Pope Francis’ guidelines and urgently take the decision to launch a rigorous, comprehensive and truly independent national investigation, with a time span of 50 years, by a commission of experts composed exclusively of Catholic laity, non-believers, social science and justice professionals, whose autonomy and independence are absolutely unquestionable, although it may eventually be advised by some clergy.”

The letter followed the publication last month of a landmark report by the French Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE).

The independent commission concluded that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.

According to a 2011 census, 81% of Portugal’s 10 million population is baptized Catholic. The 2018 report “European Young Adults and Religion” found that Portugal has one of the highest levels of weekly Mass attendance among young people in Europe.

Portugal’s bishops said that they were establishing “a permanent national listening point” for abuse victims.

“The Assembly also expressed a vote of confidence in the generality of the Portuguese clergy who, with all their availability and dedication, continue to serve the Church in their pastoral ministry,” they said in their statement.

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