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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

“There can no longer be victims, aggressors and cover-ups”, says the auxiliary bishop of Braga

“May these hard days that we are living, on a purgative path, on a penitential road, lead us to new paths towards healthy and safe Christian communities, aware that there can no longer be victims, aggressors and concealers”, reads a message. published on the website of the Diocese of Braga, entitled “Ask for forgiveness is necessary, but not enough…”.

Nuno Almeida recalls that, for this month of March, within the framework of the ‘Worldwide Prayer Network’, Pope Francis stated: ‘In the face of abuses, especially those committed by members of the Church, it is not enough to ask for forgiveness’.

“Apologizing is necessary, but it is not enough. Asking for forgiveness is good for the victims, because they are the ones who should be ‘in the center’ of everything. Your pain, your psychological damage can start to heal if you find answers; concrete actions to repair the horrors they suffered and prevent them from happening again …’”, the message reads.

For Nuno Almeida, “it is necessary to reinforce a new awareness of the power of each one to know how to listen and read the warning signs. It is not possible to maintain impunity or silence”.

“We still don’t have psychiatric and psychotherapeutic follow-up, spiritual follow-up and reconciliation programs for victims or abusers. It is necessary to study the good practices of other countries and also to advance in Portugal with paths of healing and reconciliation”, he defends.

“A person can open himself to the grace of forgiveness and allow himself to be transformed. No one is irretrievably lost. There is always that possibility, but it has to go through the ability to admit guilt and the difficult balance between justice, truth and mercy”, wrote the auxiliary bishop of Braga.

Nuno Almeida recalled the letter, dated February 2, 2015, addressed by the Pope to the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, in which he warned that ‘it is necessary to continue to do everything possible to uproot from the Church the scourge of sexual abuse against minors and to open a path of reconciliation and healing for those who have been abused’.

The auxiliary bishop of Braga understands that, in addition to the availability of the Diocesan Commissions to welcome and accompany the victims, “it is urgent to make people and programs available for psychiatric and psychotherapeutic follow-up, as well as spiritual and reconciliation follow-up for victims who so desire. It is necessary to create a ‘pool of technicians’ and spiritual companions”.

Nuno Almeida mentions that “it may be convenient for a complaint to be presented and received in another diocese”, defending the improvement of “mechanisms that already exist, and trying to cooperate between the Diocesan Commissions and the CPCJ [Comissões de Proteção de Crianças e Jovens] of each county”.

“Open a communication channel with the Public Ministry or the Judiciary Police” or find, at national level, “ways of collaboration with APAV [Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima]” are other measures indicated.

In the part of the message: ‘Open paths of reconciliation and healing for aggressors’, it is read, inter alia, that the Church “must not abandon the presumed aggressor”.

“Because ‘redemption is always possible’, although only with the ‘admission of guilt’ by the alleged criminal”, says Nuno Almeida.

The Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church validated 512 testimonies, pointing, by extrapolation, to at least 4,815 victims. Twenty-five cases were sent to the Public Ministry, which opened 15 investigations, of which nine were closed.

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

In the report, released in February, the commission warned that the data collected in ecclesiastical archives on the incidence of sexual abuse “should be understood as the ‘tip of the iceberg’” of this phenomenon.

The commission handed over to the Portuguese Episcopal Conference a list of alleged abusers, some of them active, which sent the decision to remove priests suspected of abuse to the dioceses and rejected the award of compensation to the victims.

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