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Portugal's Catholic Church to compensate sexual abuse victims

by Reuters Journalist

Portugal's Catholic Church said on Thursday it will financially compensate victims of child sexual abuse within the Church, setting the amounts to be paid on a case-by-case basis, an approach survivors' groups have criticised.

Members of Portugal's Bishops' Conference (CEP) have been meeting since Monday at the Shrine of Fatima in central Portugal to discuss the compensation, among other issues.

A report in February 2023 by a Church-funded Portuguese commission found that at least 4,815 minors had been sexually abused by clergy - mostly priests - over seven decades.

The report's authors said their findings were the "tip of the iceberg", and commission head Pedro Strecht added that more than 100 priests suspected of child sexual abuse remained active in Church roles.

The following month, the Church announced a handful of steps to tackle child sexual abuse, but it was heavily criticised for not adopting tougher measures.

CEP head Bishop Jose Ornelas said the organisation's assembly unanimously approved the granting of compensation, with requests to be filed from June to December this year. Twenty-one people have already requested compensation.

A committee will then determine the amount to be given to each victim and a newly created CEP fund will be used to make the payments, Ornelas said.

The criteria for deciding the amounts is still being worked on, Ornelas said, explaining that no maximum amount has been set and the gravity of cases would be taken into consideration.

Antonio Grosso, co-founder of church sexual abuse survivors' group Coracao Silenciado (Silenced Heart), pointed a finger at CEP's case-by-case approach.

"I don't know what measuring tape they will use to evaluate people's suffering, people who will have to tell their stories again to see if they deserve more or less cents," he told Reuters, arguing all victims should receive the same.

Grosso also said CEP should be proactive and reach out to the victims directly instead of waiting for them to request compensation.

"By waiting for requests, CEP is showing a passive attitude," Grosso said. "We are not beggars."

Sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Catholic Church in a number of other countries, including the United States, Ireland and France.

In neighbouring Spain, the Church said in November it would compensate victims of sexual abuse even in cases that have not been concluded because the offending priest has died, in a shift from its previous position on the matter.

Ornelas said compensation would also be given to Portuguese victims accusing priests who are now dead.

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