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Spanish clergy sexually abused over 200,000 children, probe estimates

Spain's national ombudsman Angel Gabilondo said the Catholic Church's response to cases of child abuse involving the clergy was 'insufficient'
Spain's national ombudsman Angel Gabilondo said the Catholic Church's response to cases of child abuse involving the clergy was 'insufficient' - Copyright AFP ATTA KENARE
Spain's national ombudsman Angel Gabilondo said the Catholic Church's response to cases of child abuse involving the clergy was 'insufficient' - Copyright AFP ATTA KENARE
Diego URDANETA

Over 200,000 minors are estimated to have been sexually abused in Spain by the Roman Catholic clergy since 1940, according to an independent commission published Friday.

The report did not give a specific figure but said a poll of over 8,000 people found that 0.6 percent of Spain’s adult population of around 39 million people said they had suffered sexual abuse by members of the clergy when they were still children.

The percentage rises to 1.13 percent — or over 400,000 people — when including abuse by lay members, Spain’s national ombudsman Angel Gabilondo told a news conference called to present the findings of the report which has over 700 pages.

The revelations in Spain are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.

The commission also interviewed 487 victims, who stressed “the emotional problems” the abuse has caused them, Gabilondo said.

“There are people who have (died by) suicide… people who have never put their lives back together,” the former Socialist education minister said.

Teresa Conde, a philosophy teacher who was abused for years by a friar starting at the age of 14 when she attended a religious school in the northwestern city of Salamanca in the early 1980, said she is “never going to be a normal person.”

“I’m never going to stop doing therapy or taking medicine,” the 57-year-old told AFP.

– ‘Downplay the issue’ –

Unlike in other nations, in Spain — a traditionally Catholic country that has become highly secular — clerical abuse allegations only recently started to gain traction, leading to accusations by survivors of stonewalling.

The report is critical of the response of the Catholic Church, saying “it has long been characterised by denial and attempts to downplay the issue.”  It recommended the creation of a state fund to pay reparations to victims.

“Unfortunately, for many years there has been a certain desire to deny abuses or a desire to conceal or protect the abusers,” said Gabilondo.

Spain’s parliament in March 2022 overwhelmingly approved the creation of an independent commission led by the country’s ombudsman to look into clerical abuse.

The country’s Catholic Church, which for years flatly refused to carry out its own probe, declined to take part in the probe, although it did cooperate by providing documents on cases of sexual abuse that had been collected by dioceses.

But as political pressure mounted, it tasked a private law firm in February 2022 with an “audit” into past and present sexual abuse by clergy, teachers and others associated with the Church, which should be completed by the end of the year.

The Spanish church has also set up protocols for dealing with sexual abuse and has set up “child protection” offices withing dioceses.

Contacted by AFP, the Spanish bishops’ conference said it would react to the commission’s report on Monday at an extraordinary meeting.

– ‘Slightly better country’ –

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the release of the report was a “milestone” in the country’s democratic history.

“Today we are a slightly better country, because a reality that everyone was for years aware of but no one talked about, has been made known,” the Socialist premier told reporters in Brussels.

Juan Cuatrecasas, a founding member of the “Infancia Robada” (Stolen Childhood) victims’ association and the father of a youth who was abused by a teacher at a Catholic school in Bilbao, said lawmakers now must ensure repairs are made.

“This must be the start of something, not an end in itself,” he told AFP.

The Roman Catholic Church’s abuse crisis exploded onto the international stage in 2002 when the Boston Globe newspaper revealed priests had sexually abused children for decades and church leaders had covered it up.

Patterns of widespread abuse of children were later reported across the United States and Europe, in Chile and Australia, undercutting the moral authority of the 1.3 billion-member Church and taking a toll on its membership.

An independent commission in France for example concluded in 2021 that some 216,000 children — mostly boys — had been sexually abused by clergy since 1950.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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