Bishops dispute responses to Spanish abuse report

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

November 8, 2023

By Bess Twiston Davies

“A single case of abuse is intolerable,” said the bishops, while rejecting estimates of as many as 440,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse in Spain.

Bishop Francisco César García Magán, the secretary general of the Spanish bishops’ conference, and Cardinal Juan José Omella, its president, at a press conference on 31 October.
Associated Press / Alamy

The Spanish bishops’ conference has pledged to pay contributions to a proposed state fund for sexual abuse victims only if it is established for all abuse survivors not only victims of clergy, religious or Church employees.

Bishop Francisco César García Magán, the conference’s secretary general said: “If the fund is only for Church victims, 90 per cent of the victims of abuse overall will not have any right to this compensation and will be excluded.”

He suggested educational establishments and sporting federations should also contribute to the fund, saying: “We are already working in the Church on a fund to give victims comprehensive redress.”

Magan’s remarks followed the bishops’ response last Monday to “A Necessary Response”, a 779-page parliamentary report on sexual abuse in the Church in Spain.

“A single case of abuse is intolerable,” said the bishops, while rejecting media estimates there could be as many as 440,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse in Spain.

Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the conference wrote on social media that those figures, based on a survey, were “lies”, the day after the report was published on 27 October.

It gave no numbers for clerical abuse victims but included a survey of 8,013 Spaniards, 0.6 per cent of whom reported having been abused by a priest or religious. That figure rose to 1.13 per cent when those abused by lay Catholics employed by Church institutions were included.

Ángel Gabilondo, the national ombudsman (called the “People’s Defender”) who compiled the report, criticised the Church. “Not all the bishops co-operated [with the report]. The odd one has quarrelled with us,” he said, with 20 of Spain’s 70 dioceses telling the inquiry they had no cases of abuse to report.

Gabilondo observed that Pope Francis had inspired a change in the discussion of clerical abuse, saying: “The Holy See has had a clear impact through Pope Francis’s documents and instructions…This has energised a movement that now seems unstoppable.”

The bishops’ conference confirmed last week that the Pope had called the entire Spanish hierarchy to a meeting in Rome at the end of November.

The bishops said they “valued” the testimony of 487 victims of clergy abuse included in the ombudsman’s report because this “placed victims centre stage”.

They have commissioned a private law firm to conduct an audit of sexual abuse cases in the Church. The Madrid-based firm Cremades and Calvo-Sotelo has asked for more time to complete the assignment.