Fri | Dec 2, 2022

Portugal abuse cases mount amid questions over Catholic bishop

Published:Monday | October 3, 2022 | 8:55 AM
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, East Timor bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo displays his certificate and medal during the Nobel ceremony at the Oslo townhall, on December 10, 1996. (AP Photo/Bjoern Sigurdsoen, File)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Clergy sexual abuse cases are casting a pall over the Catholic Church in Portugal, ensnaring senior officials even as authorities scramble to explain why shelter was given to a Nobel Peace Prize-winning bishop at the centre of sexual misconduct allegations.

Senior Catholic leaders apologised over the weekend for the hurt caused by decades of alleged abuse and cover-up — current estimates number around 400 cases — with the archbishop of Lisbon begging the faithful to not lose faith in the church.

“Be confident that for our part we will do our best, with respect to the law and the Gospel,” Archbishop Manuel Clemente said after Sunday Mass.

A spotlight fell on Portuguese church authorities, as well as the Vatican, last week when the Holy See's sex abuse office confirmed a Dutch media report that in 2020 it had secretly sanctioned Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, the revered independence hero of East Timor, a small former Portuguese colony in East Asia. Belo, who has been living in Portugal, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

Other unwelcome revelations for the Portuguese church have piled up in recent days, just as Portugal seeks to gain momentum for its hosting of World Youth Day next year in Lisbon. Pope Francis is due to attend the event, which is a major occasion on the Catholic calendar.

Portugal's attorney general's office confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that the head of the Portuguese Bishops Conference, Bishop José Ornelas, is being investigated on suspicion he covered up for abuser priests in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony.

Ornelas, who presides over Portugal's world-famous shrine at Fatima, has denied any misconduct or wrongdoing and has promised to cooperate with any investigation, but the inquiry added to the pressure on Portuguese church authorities.

Ornelas flew to Italy at the weekend for a private meeting at the Vatican with Francis, who also received his ambassador to Portugal. The Vatican provided no details about the meetings.

Ornelas' visit to the pope came two months after the archbishop of Lisbon, Clemente, went to meet the pontiff amid a deluge of allegations of child sex abuse by priests and alleged cover-ups by senior members of the Portuguese church.

The scandals have come against a backdrop of revelations published by a lay committee looking into historic church sexual abuse cases in Portugal. Since January, it has unearthed around 400 alleged cases. Previously, church officials had said they knew of only a handful of cases.

On Saturday, the diocese of Braga in northern Portugal issued an apology for the “pain and suffering” caused by allegations of sexual abuse leveled against a local priest by men and women in the area. The abuse allegedly occurred in the 1990s, and victims complain that nothing happened after they sounded the alarm after the turn of the century.

Many unanswered questions remain about Belo's time in Portugal. The Salesian missionary order to which he belongs said it took him in at the request of its superiors. His current whereabouts are unclear.

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