Pope summons Spanish bishops to the Vatican

La Croix International [France]

November 6, 2023

By Marguerite de Lasa

Francis will hold a late November summit with Spain’s bishops, following a visitation of the county’s seminaries earlier this year and the recent publication of clergy sex abuse findings.

Pope Francis has called all the Catholic bishops of Spain to a meeting at the Vatican later this month, an extremely rare convocation that has not occurred since a similar meeting in 2018 with the entire episcopate of Chile. 

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference (CEE) announced on October 31 that the summit with the pope would take place on November 28. 

They made the news public following extraordinary plenary assembly to discuss the conclusions of an independent report, issued a few days earlier, on sexual violence in the Spanish Church. That report estimates that since 1970, 1.13% of Spaniards have been victims of sexual assault in an ecclesiastical environment when they were minors. According to the Spanish daily El Pais, this would put the number of victims at 440,000.

But the late November meeting with the pope will focus on another subject: the situation of Spain’s seminaries. This follows the canonical visit to the country’s 45 houses of formation, which Francis ordered in early 2023.

He entrusted two prelates from Uruguay – Bishop Milton Luis Troccoli, 59, and Bishop Arturo Eduardo Fajardo, 62 – to carry out the investigations.  They traveled throughout Spain between February and March, visiting diocesan seminaries, as well as priestly formation centers operated by  Opus Dei and the Neocatechumenal Way. There are currently 974 seminarians in Spain. That is 725 fewer than ten years ago.

“A problematic scenario” 

Following the visitation, the two Uruguayan bishops sent a report with their observations and suggestions to Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik, the South Korean prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy.

“The scenario outlined by this external audit is problematic,” said the Spanish Catholic news site Vida Nueva. “Concern about the state of the seminaries is widespread,” it added.

“Very, very few are spared,” a Vatican source told the Spanish outlet

But Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcelona, the CEE president, said that was not his impression at all.  

“I asked if the report was negative and was told that it was not, but that there were still things to be corrected,” he told La Croix.

The announcement of the meeting at the Vatican comes at a difficult time for the Spanish bishops, who will have to decide, at their November 20-24 plenary assembly about the future of the external audit the CEE commissioned on sexual violence in the Church. The audit, which was entrusted to the law firm Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo in February 2022, is still unfinished.

The pope’s decision to summon the bishops to the Vatican is surprising, given that they just made their once-every-five-years “ad limina” visits in 2022.

Francis brought the Chilean bishops to Rome in 2018 following a report on their mishandling of sexual abuse cases in their Church. At the end of that meeting, all the Chilean bishops tendered their resignations to the pope.