LISBON (HPD) — A Catholic Church official in Portugal who has been named in investigations into the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors by priests said Wednesday his conscience is clear.
The head of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, Bishop José Ornelas, denied any improper conduct or action in the cases from 2011 to 2014. Ornelas also presides over the famous Fatima Sanctuary.
“I’m not worried,” Ornelas said of the investigations. But he admitted of what happened years ago that “those types of cases are handled differently now.” He didn’t explain further.
Authorities recently revealed that Ornelas is being investigated by Portugal’s attorney general’s office on suspicion of covering up the actions of abusive priests in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. He also faces similar accusations in relation to the abuse of a priest in northern Portugal years later.
“There was no cover-up” in those cases, Ornelas said at a televised news conference in Fatima, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Lisbon. He said that at that time he took “the appropriate measures.”
He added that he did not wish to comment further on the cases because “it is time for justice to take its course.”
Scandals over allegations of sexual abuse by Portuguese clergy have circulated for months.
A secular committee investigating the cases said Tuesday that the problem in the past had been “widespread” and in some cases reached “really endemic” proportions.
The panel has compiled a list of 424 alleged victims. Before the committee began its work in January, church officials said only a handful of cases had occurred.
For his part, Portugal’s president drew criticism on Wednesday for comments that seemed to attach importance to revelations of abuse.
Bishop Ornelas admitted that the victims found by the committee so far represented “a large number.” He asked other victims to come forward and testify before the panel that was created by the Episcopal Conference.
“This shames all of us,” Ornelas said of the abuse, acknowledging that the Church “is not perfect… and I think it never will be.”
The secular panel aims to provide victims with a voice and dignity “and make sure that something that should never have happened will not happen again,” he said.