On Wednesday in Lisbon, where the World Youth Day is taking place, Pope Francis met with a group of 13 victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. According to a report released last February, at least 4,815 minors have been victims of sexual violence in a religious context since 1950 in Portugal.
On Wednesday, August 2, Pope Francis arrived in Lisbon to participate in the World Youth Day (WYD) and met with victims of sexual violence committed by Portuguese clergy, six months after the publication of a damning report for the Church in the Iberian country.
“Pope Francis received a group of 13 people, victims of abuse by members of the clergy, at the papal nunciature,” the Vatican announced in the evening. “The meeting took place in an atmosphere of intense listening and lasted over an hour,” the Holy See said in a brief statement.
Earlier in the day, on the first day of his five-day visit to Portugal, the pontiff spoke to his ecclesiastical hierarchy about “the disappointment and anger that some feel towards the Church, sometimes because of our bad testimony and the scandals that have disfigured its face”.
According to him, these scandals “call for humble and constant purification, starting from the cry of pain of the victims, which must always be welcomed and listened to”.
In a report submitted in February, an independent commission of experts commissioned by Portuguese bishops established that at least 4,815 minors have been victims of sexual violence in a religious context since 1950, acts concealed by the Catholic hierarchy in a “systemic” way.
“This meeting with the Holy Father represents the confirmation of the path of reconciliation that the Church in Portugal is currently walking on this matter,” reacted the Episcopal Conference on Wednesday, in a country where 80% of the 10 million inhabitants define themselves as Catholics.
“Building bridges” for peace in Ukraine
In his first speech to political leaders and diplomats stationed in Portugal, the Pope called on Europe to “build bridges” for peace in Ukraine. “Looking affectionately at Europe and the spirit of dialogue that characterizes it, one could ask it: where are you sailing if you do not propose routes of peace, creative ways to end the war in Ukraine ?” Jorge Bergoglio asked.
“We are sailing on the ocean of history in tumultuous times and we feel the lack of courageous routes for peace,” lamented the Pope, who has been calling for the silencing of weapons in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022.
The 86-year-old Argentine Jesuit was greeted with military honors in the Portuguese capital, where one million young pilgrims are expected for this major international gathering within a Catholic Church reflecting on its future.
“We are the youth of the Pope!” chanted hundreds of faithfuls as they waited for him in front of the Belém Palace, where he held talks with the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
“In the right direction”
Young people from almost all nations of the world flocked to the sunny capital of Portugal for this week of festive, cultural, and spiritual events, which opened on Tuesday with a mass on top of a hill overlooking the city center.
This kick-off gathered a crowd of 200,000 pilgrims, according to the Portuguese police. According to local authorities’ estimates, there could be 750,000 for the papal welcome ceremony on Thursday evening at the same venue.
Some 16,000 members of the security forces and medical services are deployed for the occasion, and several roads and metro stations are closed, a challenge for Lisbon, a city of 550,000 inhabitants already hosting numerous tourists during the summer period.
With 11 speeches and about twenty appointments, the program of this 42nd trip abroad is loaded for the Bishop of Rome, two months after undergoing major abdominal surgery.
Less than two months before the opening of a global meeting in Rome to examine the future of the Church, this event also serves as an indicator of the position of young Catholics regarding the welcoming of the LGBT++ community, the marriage of priests, or the role of women. These are all topics on which Francis has gradually outlined reforms in his 10 years of pontificate.
The Pope has also told journalists that he wants to continue encouraging Catholic youth to “make a mess,” a reference to his words used at the Rio WYD in 2013 to urge young people to get involved in the Church.
“The Pope is someone special because he is changing the doctrine of the Church in the right direction,” commented Maria Alvarez, a 45-year-old Spanish woman.