The recent private meeting of Pope Francis in Portugal with some of the victims of clerical sexual abuse was characterised by an "atmosphere of intense listening," according to a statement from the Vatican.
The issue of clerical sexual abuse within the Church has been a matter of grave concern. Reports revealed that at least 4,815 children in Portugal had suffered abuse, and the Church had allegedly engaged in systematic efforts to conceal these disturbing incidents.
During an evening service in Lisbon, Pope Francis acknowledged the Church's responsibility to address the pain of the victims. He emphasised the importance of listening to "the anguished cry of the victims" and recognised that the scandal had contributed to a "growing detachment from the practice of the faith."
The meeting was held at the Holy See's diplomatic mission in Portugal and brought together 13 abuse victims, engaging in discussions that lasted over an hour. Representatives from the Portuguese Church responsible for protecting minors were also present.
In February, an independent commission established by the Catholic Church in Portugal published a comprehensive report based on the accounts of 564 individuals who disclosed being abused by priests or other Church authorities. The investigation, spanning cases dating back to 1950, revealed a distressing pattern of abuse, leading to the estimate of thousands of victims in total.
Pedro Strecht, the commission's president, emphasised that the reported number of victims represented the "absolute minimum" and suggested that the actual figures could be much higher. He praised those who bravely came forward to share their testimonies, acknowledging their courage in breaking the silence surrounding such abuse.
Pope Francis' visit to Portugal coincided with World Youth Day, a significant event that features a week-long celebration of religious and cultural activities organised by the Church in different cities worldwide.
Rationalist International feels that these efforts are too little and too late to address the painful legacy of clerical sexual abuse and seek reconciliation within the Church.