MADRID — Six people were convicted of child sexual abuse in a Lisbon court on Friday, in a trial that lasted nearly six years and shocked people in Portugal and beyond.
A three-judge panel found the defendants guilty of raping and sexually abusing minors at a state-run institution for needy children, and of running a ring for pedophiles. A seventh defendant, charged with allowing her home to be used for sexual abuse, was acquitted.
The charges involved the rape and sexual abuse of 32 children who were residents of the home in Lisbon, part of a network of institutions for children called Casa Pia. The crimes took place in the 1990s, but they first came to light in 2002, when a former resident accused Carlos Silvino, a former driver and gardener at the home, of raping him.
The accusation prompted others to come forward to say that they, too, had been raped and sexually abused. The allegations included accounts of sex parties attended by prominent personalities. The defendants included Carlos Cruz, a former star television anchor, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, and Jorge Ritto, a retired ambassador, who received a sentence of six years and eight months.
Mr. Silvino was the only defendant to have confessed, admitting to more than 600 crimes, including child sexual abuse, aggravated rape and procuring minors for others in return for payment. Mr. Silvino received the heaviest sentence, 18 years in prison. Mr. Cruz and most of the other defendants said they would appeal their convictions. Mr. Cruz contended that the case against him had been built on “lies and manipulation.”
Other scandals involving child sexual abuse have emerged across Europe, many involving accusations of abuses by Roman Catholic priests. In May, for example, a German special investigator released a report saying that 205 former students said they had been abused in the country’s Jesuit schools, including the prestigious Canisius College in Berlin.
Casa Pia was founded in 1780 to help care for needy children. Five of the 32 people who came forward to say they had been raped or abused as children were in court on Friday to hear the reading of the verdict. Some are now in their 20s.
“This was a nightmare trial that left many people feeling that there would never be any sentencing, with some very good defense lawyers doing everything that they could to delay things for a very long time,” said José Manuel Fernandes, a former editor of Público, a Portuguese newspaper. “With this very important verdict, I think the public will now feel that sometimes at least even the powerful can get convicted for their crime.”
A failure to reach a verdict would have “made people here very angry” and would have seriously undermined faith in the country’s judicial system, Mr. Fernandes said. More than 800 witnesses and experts testified in court over the lengthy trial, providing sometimes gruesome details of physical abuses. The verdict ran to thousands of pages.
A court ordered the Portuguese government in 2006 to pay more than $2.5 million in compensation to former residents of Casa Pia for failing to protect them.