More than 100 priests suspected of child sexual abuse remain active in church roles in Portugal, according to the head of a commission investigating the issue.
The commission, which started its work in January 2022, said in its final report published on Monday that at least 4,815 children were sexually abused by members of the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal - mostly priests - over 70 years.
It added that the findings were the “tip of the iceberg”, describing the 4,815 cases as the “absolute minimum” number of victims.
“There is an approximate (number of accused priests) and it will clearly be more than 100,” child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, who headed the commission, told SIC television.
The commission said it was preparing a list of accused priests still working to send to the Church and to the public prosecutors’ office.
Strecht said those on the list should be removed from their roles or at least should be banned from interacting with children and teenagers during the investigation.
Jose Ornelas, head of the Bishops’ Conference, said the institution was yet to receive the list.
“What Pope (Francis) says (is)... abusers of minors cannot hold positions within the ministry as long as it is proven that the person is an abuser,” Ornelas said, adding the Church would not conduct a “witch hunt” against its members.
Strecht said the Church had the “moral and ethical duty to collaborate with judicial authorities” on the matter.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said the revelations “shocked society as a whole”, adding that government officials, including the justice minister, would meet with commission members.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who came under fire in October for saying 400 cases of alleged sexual abuse by clergy members did not seem to be “particularly high”, said the Church must be held accountable.
Portuguese bishops will meet on March 3 to consider implementing “more efficient and appropriate mechanisms” to prevent future abuses, Ornelas said.
In a statement, U.S.-based support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called on Portuguese church officials to “prominently publish the name, photo, place of residence, and work history of abusive clergy”.
“Immediate action is needed, and it includes the dismissal of any bishop, chancellor, vicar general, or other church hierarchs who is complicit in what has happened,” SNAP said. “Without change at the top, nothing will change.”