On Sunday, September 8, Sister Maria Antónia Pinho, known affectionately as “Tona” by the sick and poor whom she served, was strangled to death and then raped by a man to whom she had given a lift. A suspect, who had a history of sexual abuse and drug trafficking, has since been arrested.
Bishop Manuel Quintas of the Algarve has hailed the 61-year-old Sister as a martyr, saying that a miracle should not be necessary for her canonisation.
In a sermon, he held her up as an example and spoke of his desire that her Cause be opened. He compared her to a martyr, declaring: “She doesn’t require miracles as she was faithful to her vows and to her commitment.”
In a written note published a few days earlier, Bishop Manuel Linda of Porto, which covers the area where the nun worked and was killed, criticised the justice system for failing to apprehend the suspect on prior charges, as well as the way that the press, feminists and victim advocates reacted to the murder. “The justice system failed miserably,” he wrote on his diocesan website. “According to the press, it took two [previous] attempted rapes, adding to other criminal history, for an arrest warrant to be issued. And this took so long to serve that for Sister Maria Antónia it was too late. Somebody has to be held to account.”
He went on to criticise the authorities and civil society for their silence. “With the exception of the local city council, no politician, no member of Parliament – not even those radical ones – and no human rights or feminist organisation publicly condemned the crime. None! Why? Perhaps because for them the lives of people who serve the Church are worth less. Especially if they are defending their honour.”
Sister Maria Antónia, who belonged to the Servants of Mary Ministers to the Sick, was well known for her work with the elderly, drug addicts and young offenders. The Conference of Religious Institutes of Portugal described her as “a true apostle on the margins of society, and to the most needy”.
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