Thousands of Catholics gather at the Fatima sanctuary


Tens of thousands of faithful Catholics gathered in Fatima, Portugal for the traditional pilgrimage. But this year, his prayers and thoughts are also with the Portuguese Catholic Church, which has been in the spotlight for cases of alleged sexual abuse, but also for possible cover-ups. One of the clerics singled out has been Bishop José Ornelas, a senior official who has been named in investigations involving alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests. Earlier in the day, Ornelas said his conscience was clear. The head of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference denied any wrongdoing or improper conduct in the cases dating from 2011 and 2014. Ornelas also presides over the world-famous Fatima shrine in Portugal. “I’m not worried,” Ornelas said of the investigations. But he admitted about what happened years ago that “these types of cases are handled differently now.” He did not elaborate. Ornelas, authorities recently revealed, is being investigated by Portugal’s attorney general’s office for suspicions that he covered up for abusive priests in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. He also faces accusations that he covered up for an abusive priest in northern Portugal several years later. “There was no cover-up” in those cases, Ornelas told a televised news conference in Fatima, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Lisbon, the capital. Ornelas said he took “appropriate steps” at the time. He said he didn’t want to dwell on the cases because “it’s time for justice to take its course.” Scandals over alleged child sexual abuse in the Portuguese church have been swirling for months. A secular committee investigating historical child sexual abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church said Tuesday that the problem in the past had been “widespread” and at times reached “truly endemic” proportions. The panel has compiled a list of 424 alleged victims. Before the committee began its work in January, senior church officials had said only a few cases had occurred. Ornelas acknowledged that the victims found by the committee so far represent “a large number.” He urged other victims to come forward and speak before the committee created by the Portuguese Episcopal Conference. The lay committee aims to give victims a voice and dignity and “ensure that something that should never have happened never happens again,” he said.


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