Spain’s government vows to investigate Catholic Church abuse

Crux [Denver CO]

January 29, 2022

By Inés San Martín

Spain’s ruling coalition wants for historic clerical sexual abuses to be investigated in the country, and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said he will first meet with abuse victims.

“We’re going to talk and build,” said the head of the coalition government that rules Spain. “The human dimension of this problem is important.”

Three left-wing parties – Unidas Podemos, ERC and EH Bildu – presented a petition for the creation of a commission in Spain’s Congress to launch an investigation into the sexual abuses of minors committed within the Catholic Church.

The three parties presented the petition on Thursday, after calling these “abominable events” and saying that they consider the efforts carried out thus far by the Spanish Bishops’ Conference to be insufficient.

In a statement quoted by Europa Press, Jaume Asens, president of the parliamentary group of Unidas Podemos, explains that “these are abominable facts that not only question the victims, but also society as a civilization in the face of the refusal of the leadership of the Spanish Church to obey the Pope’s recommendations in this matter”.

He accuses the bishops of having “an obstructionist attitude” towards an independent investigation to be carried out, as have been the cases in France or Germany. Seeing this attitude, he argues, the commission aims at knowing “the whole truth, to make reparations to the victims, to purge responsibilities and that this will never happen again.”

Asens claimed that the bishop’s Conference “has turned a deaf ear, has looked the other way, that seems serious to us, the ecclesiastical leadership has not opened its archives, has not communicated data on the number of victims, has denied its responsibility, has trivialized the seriousness of these facts by talking about small cases.”

The request of a commission following the negative of the bishops’ conference to create one at a national level, follows an investigation carried out by El Pais, a national newspaper, that was handed to Pope Francis in December. According to the newspaper, the investigation is “unprecedented” for the church in Spain, as it includes allegations made against 251 members of the clergy and some lay people from religious institutions of sexual abuse against minors. The investigation was opened on Oct. 2018.

Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona and president of the Spanish bishops, said earlier this month following a meeting with Francis that he hopes to bring to light the abuses perpetrated by members of the Spanish clergy and by religious and lay people in Church-related settings, but said that “for the moment” the bishops have no plans to summon an independent commission.

“All the dioceses are responding little by little. They have replied to El País asking them to send data because in some cases there is no data,” Omella said. (“If) there has been an accusation of a priest or a religious, say who it is and we will investigate.”

The inquiries will have to branch out according to the competent ecclesiastical entity, since they affect 31 religious orders and 31 dioceses.

During an informal conversation with the press, Sánchez didn’t reject the proposal nor the possibility of putting the weight of the government behind it. However, he said, he will first meet with abuse victims and listen to their testimonies. This private encounter will take place next week, Spanish media reports.

Sánchez is the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which formed a government thanks to an alliance with Unidas Podemos. Due to how the Spanish Congress is divided, PSOE would have to support the initiative for it to go through. The other two major parties, the conservatives PP and VOX, have already rejected the possibility.

According to the three parties that presented the proposal, a parliamentarian investigation of clerical sexual abuse can facilitate reparation to the victims. It would grant survivors a space, through restorative justice procedures, to narrate their experience with freedom and with the assumption of institutional responsibility.

Support to an independent inquiry from Portugal

Speaking with Spanish weekly magazine Vida Nueva, child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht, coordinator of the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse in the Portuguese Church, urged the Spanish bishops to open a similar inquiry.

“Trust the people, listen to the people, facilitate the possibility of giving voice to the silence,” he said. The Portuguese bishops announced the creation of the Commission last December, and it was officially launched Jan. 10. Five days later, the Commission shared that it had received more than 100 testimonies.

According to the expert, Portugal and Spain have similar situations when it comes to the clerical abuse crisis.

“We have lived through similar realities: we are both Latin countries, we have both lived under dictatorships for many years, from which we have historically freed ourselves very recently,” Strecht said. “We had decades of pockets of poverty and unprotection, in which it was the Church that took in the youngest, who, moreover, needed more support and affection.”

Spain’s religious also continue their efforts

The Spanish Conference of Religious (CONFER) has asked for “forgiveness” for “not having acted correctly” in the face of the sexual abuses committed against minors by members of their congregations.

“As a first reaction, and out of respect for the victims of these abuses, we want to ask forgiveness for not having acted correctly in something that, as Church entities, we should have taken care of,” said , Jesús Miguel Zamora, the secretary general of CONFER.

The major superiors of the congregations affected by cases collected by El Pais of abuse have met “not only” to “review the past” but to “proactively” avoid cases “in the present and the future.”

During that meeting, the various institutes of Consecrated Life emphasized that they want to be “a safe place of accompaniment and responsible growth for the children, young people and vulnerable adults” they serve.

“It is our commitment to the Gospel and we want to do it well, even if it costs and is painful,” Zamora stressed.

He also indicated that they want to find mechanisms and help each other “to find ways in the prevention of abuse” so that their institutions “educational, pastoral, of welfare or other, offer a safe place for minors and vulnerable people.”

Speaking to Europa Press, the president of CONFER pointed out that “inevitably” it is necessary to make “a review of the past” on cases of sexual abuse in religious congregations but also bets on “training” to avoid more cases in “the present and future.”