2008/11/25

The Casa Pia child sexual abuse scandal

The Casa Pia child sexual abuse scandal refers to child abuses involving a number of children and employees at Casa Pia, a Portuguese state-run institution for the education and support of poor children and under-age orphans. Portuguese Judiciary Police (Polícia Judiciária) officials estimate that more than 100 boys and girls of the 4,600 pupils enrolled in Casa Pia at the time, including some deaf and mute, may have been sexually abused.
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The scandal of alleged sexual abuse at the state-run Casa Pia orphanages resurfaced when several former orphanage children came forward with accusations of abuse. The accusations linked some politicians, diplomats, and media celebrities — all of whom were alleged to have conspired in a pedophilia ring that had operated for decades. The scandal broke in September 2002 when the mother of one alleged victim, known as Joel, complained of abuse by staff at a Casa Pia house.

Former Casa Pia children came forward to publicly accuse several personalities of sexual abuse. The weekly magazine Visão reported that a Portuguese diplomat, Jorge Ritto, was removed from his post as consul in Stuttgart (1969-1971) after German authorities complained to Lisbon about his involvement with an under-age boy in a public park.

Accused were diplomat Jorge Ritto, Carlos Cruz (a famous Portuguese television presenter), Carlos Silvino (a.k.a. Bibi, an employee of Casa Pia and a former pupil in the institution) Ferreira Diniz (a physician from Lisbon), Hugo Marçal (a lawyer who was a defendant of Carlos Silvino in the early stages of the process) ...

Secretary of State for Labor and Training from 1999 to 2001, Paulo Pedroso, who was responsible for the Casa Pia homes, which care for some 4,600 children at 10 centers around Portugal, was suspected of 15 cases of sexual violence against minors, which allegedly took place between 1999 and 2000. His case was also subsequently dropped. In September 2008, a Portuguese court ordered the state to pay 100,000 euros ($140,000) to the ex-minister Paulo Pedroso, on the grounds that he was wrongly detained on paedophilia charges.

The Socialist Party leader at the time, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, who was a close personal friend of Paulo Pedroso, offered to undergo police questioning after “he had learned of plans to implicate him in the [Casa Pia] scandal”. The weekly paper Expresso published a report on May 25, 2003 from four children who said they saw Ferro Rodrigues at locations where sexual abuse was taking place. The paper said there was no evidence he was personally involved and the Attorney General José Souto de Moura insisted he was not a suspect. Ferro Rodrigues took legal action against those who said they saw him at locations where sexual abuse was taking place. Rodrigues has said, “I want it to be clear: our fight will be serene but determined and it is and will only be directed at those who are responsible for this defamation, whatever their objective is.”

The Prime Minister at the time, José Manuel Durão Barroso, whose Social Democratic Party ousted the Socialists in March 2002, promised to bring life and honor back into the Casa Pia child's homes and allow new director Catalina Pestana to reform the institution. As a result, several senior staff of Casa Pia were fired after the 2002 revelations. However, Pestana, told parliament and the media, as late as 2007, that there may still be pedophiles in the Casa Pia system. She also criticised the legal changes made after the start of the trial, which she claims were made in order to help those who were present to court.

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