Why is the Spanish Catholic Church refusing an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse?



Activists are calling for an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church.

They insist that the number of cases is comparable to that of neighboring France, where a recent investigation has claimed 218,000 victims since 1950.

But as the gathering of bishops of the Episcopal Conference ended in Madrid on Friday, November 19, the church denied the allegations.

Spokesman Luis Argüello reiterated that the institution would not be “proactive” in undertaking an external investigation into allegations of sexual abuse.

“We are not ready to conduct statistical and sociological surveys,” he said.

“There are only a few cases,” he added, citing the figure of 0.8% of priests guilty of such crimes since 1950. “Why is the focus only on the Catholic Church ?

The denial comes as France, Ireland, Germany and Belgium conducted independent investigations after the United States led the way in 2002; Portugal has also just appointed a national commission to do the same.

“Spain is in a paradoxical position because it is sandwiched between France and Portugal which have taken measures”, explains Gema Varona, lecturer in criminal policy at the University of the Basque Country, who presented in last June an independent study on sexual abuse within the Spanish Catholic Church. with the University of Barcelona and the Oberta University of Catalonia.

Even before the gathering of the Spanish Catholic Church, the victims’ hopes for greater responsibility were negligible.

The jamboree did not include a meeting with the victims themselves despite the fact that many are simply asking for their stories to be heard; stories like that of Enrique Pérez Guerra, who says he was mistreated by Father Javier, 60, when he was only 12 years old at the Carmelitas monastery in Zaragoza, in the province of Aragon, in 1968.

“I wanted to be a priest and a missionary,” he told Euronews. “So I went to see Father Javier, to see if he could help me and he told me to come to his cell in the afternoon when he was mistreating me. He was highly respected by my family and everyone around, and while the abuse was going on, he came to our house for dinner. He appeared to be an affable and kind man. The abuse lasted five months until he was transferred to Andalusia. All the while, I was afraid my parents would find out. I thought I was committing a mortal sin and asked him to confess me, but he laughed at me.

It took 10 years for Enrique to express himself.

“I self-harmed and failed in school and often zoned out,” says the 65-year-old who later wrote the memoir Hidden Afternoons. “I was afraid of becoming like Father Javier. At that time, being gay was mistaken for being a pedophile, so when I started dating the woman who is now my wife, I was relieved. But the guilt is still there; I still have dreams.

Emiliano Álvarez Delgado’s experience was just as if not more heartbreaking. He was allegedly assaulted by a network of pedophile priests at the San José de la Bañeza Juvenile Seminary in Castile and León in 1977 when he was only 10 years old.

“They would go into the dorms at night and choose which bed they went to,” said the 55-year-old. “They pulled the covers off your bed and pulled your pants down and touched and kissed and sucked your penis. I never told my parents because they wouldn’t believe me and there was a climate of fear in school and a lot of beatings. They would beat you for anything. Once they sent me flying 10 meters down a hallway, they hit me so hard. I don’t know what I was most afraid of – beatings or abuse.

Emiliano ran away from the seminary at the age of 12.

“I thought when I was out of there it would be over, but then the legacy comes,” he says. “In my case it was alcohol, drugs and prostitution. I’m fine now, but I’ll probably never fully recover from what they did to me.

“Get over it” was the message Enrique received when he was finally seen by the Bishop of Mallorca, Sebastià Taltavull, several years ago.

“I wrote to him three times and the third time he agreed to see me. He told me I had to put the abuse aside and put a good face on it, ”he said.

According to Juan Cautrecosas, president of the Association for Stolen Children (ANIR), whose son was sexually abused while attending an Opus Dei school in Bilbao, recent statistics released by the Church indicating that 220 cases of abuse are under investigation are far from reality, given that the Suavé report produced by the external investigation in France cited a minimum of 216,000 victims since 1950.

“It is absolutely false that cases of pedophilia within the [Spanish Catholic] The church is 0.8%, ”he said. “They manipulated the statistics in Spain, only having recourse to the ANAR foundation for reports of abuse. But many victims did not report their abuse to ANAR as brilliant as this foundation. In Spain, the figures are similar to those in France, if not higher. There is a tradition of transparency in France while in Spain, there is the feeling of impunity of the Church and the fear of reprisals from the victims.

The fear is not unfounded. When Juan and his wife reported his son’s abuse a year after it took place in 2010, the family was bombarded with threats that forced them to move in 2013, Cautrecosas said.

“We got calls with the caller who fell silent then hung up and we were stopped in the street by a sinister figure rubbing his hands and telling us that we would pay for what we did. The school did nothing and took the side of the priest who obtained 11 years, which the Supreme Court reduced to two, ”he said.

When Emiliano reported his abuse several years ago, he said the bishop allowed his surviving attacker to sue him for making false charges. His more recent turbulent past has been brought up and he has been portrayed as an emerging delinquent.

Varona suggests that the 0.8% figure is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Given that this dates back to 1950 – when Franco was in power and there were many religious schools – it’s not credible,” she says.

But the Spanish Catholic Church insists that any abuse is exceptional. On top of that, the bishops declared themselves to be pioneers in shedding light on all allegations with a revolutionary set of rules to bolster the support offered by their child protection offices, which were put in place in March 2020 in each of 70 dioceses of Spain by order of Pope Francis.

But ANIR’s Juan Cuatrecasos is exasperated by their demands.

“It is not acceptable that they brag about so-called anti-pedophilic standards, claiming to be pioneers, when it is already well known that their attitude of non-proactivity in investigating their crimes betrays them,” said -he. “It is shameful and intolerable that they continue to deny and hide the truth. November 20 is Universal Children’s Day; it would have been an act of humanity and empathy if they had taken this into account before again disrespecting children and their rights.

Regarding the offices for the protection of minors, Varona said: “I know from the victims who have visited these offices that they do not feel well treated. You need to create an independent entity like Ireland’s Towards Healing.

So will the Spanish Catholic Church be persuaded to open an investigation? After all, the hymn La Muerte no es el Final, composed by the late priest Ceráreo Gabaráin, who was accused of several cases of abuse while teaching at the Maristas religious school in Madrid, is still played by the Spanish armed forces and sung by King Felipe VI on the national holiday, with suggestions that it should be banned met with disbelief.

“Such a condemnation would be medieval,” spokesman Argüello said after the United States banned it in August.

Enrique mentions the 2015 movie Spotlight, the true story of how the Boston Globe reported child abuse in the local Catholic Archdiocese and says it is sad that the same does not happen in Spain .

“Any change here will be to a lesser extent,” he said. “The transition is not over, culturally speaking. There are still a lot of taboos; we are not a free-thinking society; not a full-fledged democracy. It is well known that you had better be careful if you disagree with the clergy, and when people mean that you have hit a brick wall, there is the Spanish saying “You have hit the wall. ‘Church”.

By the end of the 117th Assembly of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, some of the alleged victims might feel just that.

Euronews has asked the Spanish Catholic Church for comment on this article, but it had not responded at the time of publication.

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