Abuse cases in Portugal are piling up amid questions about the Nobel Bishop

LISBON – Cases of sex abuse by clergy cast a shadow over the Catholic Church in Portugal and seduce senior officials, even as authorities struggle to explain why a Nobel Peace Prize-winning bishop was given shelter at the center of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Top Catholic leaders apologized over the weekend for the damage caused by decades of alleged abuse and cover-ups – current estimates put the number at around 400 cases – with the Archbishop of Lisbon urging believers not to lose faith in the Church.

“Be confident that we will do our best on our part, in terms of the law and the gospel,” Archbishop Manuel Clemente said after Sunday Mass.

A spotlight fell on Portuguese church authorities and the Vatican last week when the Holy See’s Office on Sexual Abuse confirmed a Dutch media report it had in 2020 secretly sanctioned Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, the revered independence hero of East Timor, a small former Portuguese colony in East Asia. Belo, who lives in Portugal, received the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

More unwelcome revelations for the Portuguese church have piled up in recent days, just as Portugal is trying to gain momentum to host next year’s World Youth Day in Lisbon. Pope Francis will attend the event, which is an important event in the Catholic calendar.

Portugal’s Attorney General’s Office confirmed Monday to The Associated Press that the head of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, Bishop José Ornelas, is under investigation on suspicion of covering up for abusive priests in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony.

Ornelas, who presides over Portugal’s world-famous shrine in Fatima, has denied any wrongdoing or wrongdoing and has promised to cooperate with any investigation, but the probe increased pressure on Portuguese church authorities.

Ornelas flew to Italy over the weekend for a private meeting at the Vatican with Francis, who was also receiving his ambassador to Portugal. The Vatican did not provide any information about the meetings.

Ornelas’ visit to the Pope comes two months after Lisbon’s Archbishop Clemente met the Pope amid a spate of allegations of child sexual abuse by priests and alleged cover-ups by senior members of the Portuguese Church.

The scandals came amid revelations made public by a lay committee investigating historical cases of Church sexual abuse in Portugal. Around 400 suspected cases have been brought to light since January. Church officials had previously said they only knew of 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 made against a local priest by men and women in the region. The abuse is said to have taken place in the 1990s and victims complain that nothing happened after sounding the alarm post turn of the century.

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

The Vatican barred Belo from contact with minors or with East Timor based on allegations of misconduct that arrived in Rome in 2019.

The East Timor embassy in Lisbon on Monday did not immediately respond to a request for comment on a Portuguese media report that it had picked him up from a Salesian property in Lisbon and taken him to an undisclosed location following last week’s revelations.

Belo said he retired in 2002 due to ill health and to bring a different church leadership to newly independent East Timor. But within a year of his retirement, Belo was sent to Mozambique by the Vatican and the Salesians to work as a missionary priest. Portugal maintains close ties with the African country.

There, Belo says, he spent his time “teaching catechism to children and giving retreats to youth.”

The United Nations and Victims Advocates have called on Francis to do so authorize an investigation about the circumstances of Belo’s retirement in 2002, when he was 20 years short of normal retirement age, and why he was sent to Mozambique.

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/10/03/portugal-abuse-cases-mount-amid-questions-over-nobel-bishop/ Abuse cases in Portugal are piling up amid questions about the Nobel Bishop

Sarah Y. Kim

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