School sex abuse shocks Portugal

Date: 2003-10-19

CRAIG S. SMITH
Houston Chronicle

LISBON, Portugal - Pedro Namora, 39, points up the hill from the ocher walls and red tiled roofs of Casa Pia, or Pious House, the state school for orphans and underprivileged children where he grew up, and describes how he ran from a school chaperone nicknamed Bibi who he said had grabbed him in the lavatory of a nearby soccer stadium.

"I was 11," he said. "We all knew to watch out for Bibi."

Bibi, whose real name is Carlos Silvino, now 46 and in jail, is awaiting trial on more recent charges that he molested another young boy. Though Silvino says he is innocent, the case has brought to light decades of abuse at the school despite repeated attempts by children and teachers to stop it.

The allegations have reached deep into Portuguese society, shaking the foundations of political life here. The arrest of a prominent opposition party leader and his vehement denials have raised the possibility that either top officials were involved or top officials are trying to use the case to smear political enemies. The allegations also have awakened people to the devastating effects of pedophilia and the need for law enforcement and child welfare officials to be more aggressive about protecting children.

Silvino, witnesses charge, not only helped himself to the unprotected children of Casa Pia, but also furnished other pedophiles with young victims, too, delivering affection-starved boys and girls to private homes in the capital where they were molested or raped and occasionally paid with money, stereos, clothes or shoes. After a local journalist wrote about Lisbon's dark secret last November, doctors called in to examine Casa Pia's 4,500 children said they had found more than 100 who had suffered repeated abuse.

Casa Pia's new director, Catalina Pestana, said in her office at the institution's main campus here that most of the abuse occurred to children ages 10 to 13. Psychologists here estimate that only about two-thirds of those abused will admit the ordeal.

How could such widespread and openly recognized abuse have gone on for so long?

Pestana, wearing a forest green linen suit with an Egyptian Ankh pendant on a chain around her neck, searches the corners and walls of her office with her eyes before speaking. "There was a world of silence," she said. "The reputation of the institution took precedence over the quality of life for the children."

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