The Spanish Church continues to be an exception in the Western Catholic world when it comes to dealing with the scandal of child abuse. While in the United States, France, Holland, Ireland or Germany general and exhaustive investigations of the past have been undertaken, and thousands of victims have come to light, in Spain passivity and silence seem to be the norm. The Episcopal Conference (CEE) has refused to carry out an investigation into the past and after the dioceses opened, by order of the Pope, some offices of attention to the victims, it has not wanted to give information either. He only said three months ago that the complaints received were “zero or very few.” Given the lack of data and answers, EL PAÍS has asked the 70 Spanish dioceses about the cases of abuse they are aware of, one year after the opening of those offices. The result, which can be consulted in the graph below, represents a first and timid advance in breaking the silence: at least 37 have answered and 33 of them have agreed to report the number of complaints they have received, although the majority have not. they count none. But the novelty is that there are already 13 bishoprics that admit 45 cases, between new complaints and those of the past, 20 of them unknown until now because they have not been reported in the media.
The scope of this small step is measured by taking as a reference a first round of consultation carried out by this newspaper in October 2018: the cases they admit have multiplied by ten. Then they only recognized four. They are still figures that do not resist the slightest comparison with the average of the scandal in all countries – only the Spanish Jesuits have recognized 81 victims – but it is already a small advance compared to what the same dioceses admitted two years ago. In 2018, when EL PAÍS began its investigation on the abuse of minors in the Church, the balance of that first questionnaire was even more insignificant: the vast majority of the dioceses did not respond, only 18 answered and, of them, only four admitted a case (Oviedo, Plasencia, Guadix and Vic). Another five claimed they had none registered and the other nine avoided questions. The 20 new cases of pedophilia in the clergy that now come to light, of which on the other hand the dioceses refuse to give any details, raise the total of those known in Spain to 243, with about 550 victims, according to the accounting that EL PAÍS carries, given the absolute absence of ecclesiastical and official data. Most of the abuses have occurred in religious orders.
At Christmas 2018, at the height of the scandal in Spain, Pope Francis thanked the media for their work to “unmask these wolves and give a voice to the victims” and warned the bishops: “The Church asks not to be silent and let it come to light objectively, because the biggest scandal in this matter is to cover up the truth ”. Two years later, the Spanish Church is still far from fulfilling the Pope’s wish. The Episcopal Conference argues that it has no executive power, only coordination, and everything depends on each bishop, who is the absolute owner of his diocese. In the reaction to the questionnaire sent there is sometimes a gap between one and the other in terms of sensitivity to the problem. In most cases, it is difficult to even know about the existence of the victim assistance office on their website. EL PAÍS has also asked if they are going to investigate its archives to review the past and only four have done it or are doing it: Bilbao, Zamora, Cartagena and Solsona. More Barcelona, which nevertheless only lasted until 1985. The bishops are still very reluctant to be transparent about the handling of abuses: only nine reveal the cases of the past that they are aware of. Madrid is the diocese that has focused the most on the issue, it applies transparency when communicating its data on its own initiative and, in fact, it is where more cases have come to light, eight new and one registered in the past.
This newspaper has also asked the dioceses if they will compensate the victims who claim it and 12 would be open to study it. Also, if they would support a general investigation of the past promoted and coordinated by the Episcopal Conference, as in Germany or France (in both countries there have been more than 3,000 victims): only 10 would do so. The entity that represents the Spanish bishops, meeting this Tuesday and Wednesday, in his permanent commission, he continues to avoid this question both in press conferences and in calls made by the media: “We have no power over the dioceses,” they repeat. The Apostolic Letter of the Pope of May 2019, You are world’s light, which reinforced the measures against pedophilia in the clergy, does not mention anything in this regard, although it does include the possibility that the episcopal conferences “can establish a fund destined to defray the cost of the investigations.” The EEC does not want to talk about compensation either. The highest body of the Spanish Church created in October 2018 an anti-pederasty commission whose activity is unknown. It was supposed to update the anachronistic anti-abuse protocols in force since 2010, but has not yet done so.
Half of the dioceses have not responded to this newspaper’s questionnaire after three weeks. The bishopric of Oviedo, for example, with cover-up charges against two of its bishops (Jesús Sanz and Carlos Osoro), has refused to make any statement. In Pamplona, Maite Quintana, director of the Abuse Prevention Commission, responded: “We believe that, at the right time, from the diocesan Church, we will inform and render an account of our work to Navarre society, to which we owe ourselves first place. From there they will be able to echo the information issued ”. Navarra is a very significant case, because almost fifty cases have come to light in two years in the press, but the diocese hardly recognizes any, simply because they have not come to present a canonical complaint. This is a pretext to which many dioceses have seized, and which the Pope precisely wanted to eradicate in his apostolic letter of 2019. In his article 3 he states: “Every time a cleric or a member of an Institute of consecrated life or of a Society of Apostolic Life has news or reasonable grounds to believe that any of the facts has been committed (…) it has the obligation to report it without delay ”to the bishop. Having news also includes the press, according to the canonical experts consulted. Nobody can look the other way anymore. The papal document also orders to communicate the cases that are not of a diocese to the corresponding bishop, or to the superior of the religious order involved.
The Government and institutions are also silent in Spain, unlike in other countries, where they have promoted the creation of investigation commissions in the face of social alarm. There are some exceptions. In Navarra, the provincial government, very active in supporting the victims’ association that has been formed in the community, has reproached the Bishop of Pamplona, Francisco Pérez, for his inaction: “I must regret that nothing or almost nothing has been done. I must regret that it was committed only to a public announcement that has not been accompanied by effective and real mechanisms of complaint and investigation, ”said the Minister of Migration Policies and Justice, Eduardo Santos, last week in the presentation of a book on abuse.
Despite the reforms of Pope Francis, the victims denounce that the bishoprics and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican’s disciplinary body, continue to prevent information about past cases from coming to light. It is the complaint, for example, of Javier, victim of José Manuel Ramos Gordón in the seminary of La Bañeza (León, diocese of Astorga). Since the Vatican lifted the pontifical secret in cases of pedophilia in December 2019, this affected person has not stopped requesting the documentation of his case. But both the Astorga diocese and the Doctrine of the Faith have denied it. They allege that the papal decision “is not retroactive”, so the cases reported before 2019 remain shielded in the ecclesiastical archives. “They don’t want to give it to me and I’m within my rights. My process was a fraud ”, Javier explains. The priest was sentenced to a year apart and sources from the investigation told EL PAÍS that, initially, the sentence imposed was much harsher, but that the bishop, Juan Antonio Menéndez, decided to change it at the last moment before send sentence to Rome. Something that, as an authority of the diocese, he could do. “They are afraid that shit will come out and let’s see that they are still covering each other,” accuses this victim. Javier was one of the first affected in Spain to take his case to the press, La Opinion de Zamora, which triggered a barrage of complaints against the priest himself. Menéndez, who died in 2019, was appointed president of the EEC’s anti-pedophilia commission, a designation that was controversial for the management of that case.
If you know of any case of sexual abuse that has not seen the light, write us with your complaint to [email protected]