Sister María Gómez Valbuena, known as Sor Maria, is appearing in court in Madrid accused of being at the centre of a ring of baby snatchers, who took children from mothers they considered unsuitable and then sold them to adoptive parents.
The scam is thought to have started in the 1940's and continued right through to the late 1990's. So far, around 1,500 complaints have been filed with police all across Spain from people who believe that their children were sold into adoption.
The 80-year-old nun has been charged specifically with the case of María Luisa Torres. The official charges are for kidnapping and forgery. María Luisa Torres gave birth in 1982 to a little girl, Pilar. The woman claims the nun took her child threatening her that of she did not comply that her other daughter would also be taken as she was guilty of adultery, according to El Pais.
Pilar's adoptive father spent years looking for his adopted daughter's real mother and its through his efforts and that of associations of affected parents that the scandal has been broken open. Pilar and her real mother have been reunited and have both appeared in court to testify against Sister Maria.
The nun, wearing her habit of the order of Sisters of Charity, appeared in court on Thursday April 12 but refused to testify. According to the BBC, the practice of taking children from parents considered unsuitable started during the Franco era in Spain following the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. The BBC says:
"The practice is believed to have been motivated by a desire to remove children from "undesirable" left-wing parents and give them to "approved" right-wing families."
Some of the affected families were told that their child had died during childbirth and had no knowledge that instead the baby had been sold to adoptive parents.
The Spanish government has announced that it will set up a database to help parents look for lost children and adopted children look for their birth parents using modern day DNA techniques. There is no way of knowing exactly how many families have been affected by this scandal.
The Daily Mail reports that an association, called 'Anadir' has been set up by families who believe they have been affected. So far they have presented 900 lawsuits but most have been rejected due to lack of evidence. Many of those who were told their baby had died never saw the body and were never given proper death certificates.
Sister Maria has contracted the services of a well known defence lawyer and if she continues to refuse to tell the court what she knows, hundreds of families will never get the answers they so desperately seek.