An independent panel studying child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal found that more than 4,800 children have been sexually abused by mostly priests over the past 70 years.
The Independent Committee for the Study of Child Abuse in the Catholic Church released its final 500-page report Monday to the Associated Press, which Portuguese bishops set up just over a year ago to look into the alleged historical abuse in the church from 1950 to the present day.
So far, 512 alleged victims have made accusations.
Pedro Strecht, a child psychiatrist who led the commission, told Reuters that at least 4,815 children were abused, adding those accusations are “the tip of the iceberg.”
“(We want) to pay a sincere tribute to those who were abuse victims during their childhood and dared to give a voice to silence,” Strecht said. “They are much more than a statistic.”
The panel included six individuals compiled of psychiatrists, a former Supreme Court judge, and a social worker, who interviewed more than 500 victims, researched old church documents and spoke to bishops and other clergy members.
Included in the report, the commission found a set of staggering statistics alleging 77% of the abusers were priests, 77% of the victims didn’t report the abuse, and only 4% went to local authorities.
Other figures revealed 48% of those allegedly abused that came forward spoke about the abuse for the first time, the Associated Press noted, adding 53% of the victims were male.
Most sexual abuses allegedly happened to children between 10 and 14, with the youngest victim only 2 years old.
Strecht told Reuters the victims were abused in Catholic schools, churches, priests’ homes, and confessionals, among other locations. The report noted the abuse happened in “real blackspots.”
However, the report did not reveal specific locations.
Members of the panel decided against publishing the names of the victims and the alleged abusers, but the AP noted bishops would receive a list of those accused of abuse and still active in the church by the end of the month.
Senior church officials listened to panel members on Monday read out some accounts of the accusations, which the Associated Press described as “vivid and shocking.”
The panel said 25 allegations were submitted to prosecutors for review. However, most of the alleged cases reached the statute of limitations, but the commission argued the law should be changed for such crimes committed three decades ago to face legal proceedings.
Jose Ornelas, head of the Bishops’ Conference, told a news conference after the final report’s presentation, saying the details were an “open wound that hurts and shames us.”
“We apologize to all the victims,” said Ornelas, who is also under investigation by public prosecutors for allegedly covering up child sex abuse at a Mozambique orphanage in 2011.
Portuguese bishops are set to meet next month to further review the report.