MADRID: Bishops refuse to carry out in-depth investigations into abuse cases and are not making the findings public. Spanish newspaper El País reports over 500 victims have been recognised so far, with 126 priests identified as perpetrators.
More and more cases of abuse of minors within the Catholic Church in Spain are coming to light. A fortnight ago, the Jesuits reported 81 victims and declared themselves willing to compensate them. Other congregations are following their example.
The Spanish newspaper EL PAÍS contacted ten of the largest congregations within the Catholic Church. Seven of these now recognise 61 cases of paedophile priests. Forty-two of these cases are new reports. The seven congregations also agree to compensate victims.
Abuse cases rapidly doubling
From 1986 until the beginning of January this year – a period of 35 years – 125 cases of abuse were identified. In just a few weeks, that figure has almost doubled. When EL PAÍS began investigating the abuses in 2018, there were only 34 known cases. The newspaper opened a special email address for reports and published a number of cases. This resulted in a further 200 reported cases. In total, the number of victims of abuse within the church has risen to more than 500, according to the newspaper. Yet many bishops still refuse to look critically at the past.
Small first step
A few monastic orders have started an internal investigation, a number are still working on it and are only providing preliminary figures. Opus Dei, for example, is still putting the finishing touches to its internal investigation. It is only a first and minimal step towards the truth.
In the past, no report was made about the offending priest. Often the accused was transferred, expelled from the order or forced to leave the congregation. Moving the problem, rather than dealing with it, led to further cases of abuse and allowed the order to maintain silence over the affair. By victims reporting the abuse via special e-mail addresses, through the press, or even by hiring a detective, religious institutes became aware. The investigations remained under the radar until El País shone the spotlight on them.
Tip of the veil
The proceedings only lift a tip of the veil. The orders are not revealing details – names, places or dates. With this information in the public domain, more victims might come forward. While it seems like progress for the Spanish Church, which remained silent until 2018, it makes the position of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference painfully clear. As in almost all major Catholic countries, it refuses to investigate the past and even to consider compensation for the victims.
It is two years since the February 2019 Vatican summit on abuse, and the Spanish church has taken only a small step since then. Victim support offices have opened in every diocese, as per order of the pope. In October 2018, the church set up a commission against abuse to update the protocols in place since 2010. Now, more than two years later, nothing is known about the work of this commission and the website still lists the old protocols. The Bishops’ Conference does not answer questions from EL PAÍS and refers to notes and press conferences in 2020. In November, the bishops’ spokesman merely stated that the number of complaints received was ‘zero or very few’.
As for the investigation, the motto in Spain is that every bishop does as he pleases. This is in contrast to the bishops’ conferences of the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and France, which have carried out extensive investigations in their countries.
The response of the 70 Spanish dioceses is slow and opaque; reluctant to disclose the number of abuse cases reported. The vast majority refuse to look into their files and compensate the victims. In all countries, the reality of past abuses has only come to light through truth commissions – by governments, the church, or both – that gave the victims enough confidence that they were serious.
Lack of sensitivity
Juan Ignacio Cortés, author of a book on paedophilia in the Spanish Catholic Church, puts it this way: ‘In Spain, nobody does anything. No one is interested, not the Church or the state, which in the past had to keep watch, because many institutions, from boarding schools to orphanages, were part of the state welfare system. Even now, in the few cases that come to court, the victims are mistreated. There is a total lack of sensitivity on everyone’s part. Everyone says: what a shame, and then they look the other way.’
‘They took away another nine years of my life’
Historian Gema Varona is critical of the Jesuits’ research. ‘They don’t explain how it was carried out, and don’t make all the results public,’ she says. Also, the number of recorded cases seems unrealistic. Since 1927, according to the Jesuits’ report, only 1% of the order committed abuse. Varona believes that the reports must be transparent and thorough, in order to be able to help the victims. She has also conducted a survey among victims. This will show there is a lot of suffering, that victims are not heard and sometimes even mistreated by the Church. As one of the victims put it: ‘Since I reported it in 2009, they stole another nine more of my life.’