“No desire for truth” in a Spanish church about child sexual abuse

Unlike other countries where child sex scandals have held the Catholic Church to account, the Spanish Church has avoided investigating allegations of abuse by its clergy to the fury of victims.

Over the past decades, thousands of people have spoken out against the atrocious abuses committed by the clergy in the United States, Europe, Australia and beyond, prompting the Church to investigate in many countries to seek redress. for the victims.

In France alone, a study commissioned by the French Catholic Church revealed last month that its clergy had abused some 216,000 minors since 1950.

But in Spain, there are no official statistics on child sexual abuse.

The Church says it has only counted 220 cases since 2001, and has ruled out “actively” investigating such allegations.

“The case of the Church in Spain is … shameful,” says Fernando Garcia Salmones, who was abused as a teenager at a school run by Roman Catholic priests in Madrid.

“They have no desire to know the truth,” the 60-year-old tour guide told AFP, saying the abuse destroyed his life and left him “dirty”, “guilty” and “like a man. Fuck”.

Historically, Spain has always been a deeply Catholic country, and around 55% of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, a religion deeply rooted in the culture of the country.

The Church in Spain did not explain why it refused to conduct a full investigation, saying only that it had protocols in place to deal with allegations of abuse by its clergy.

– No liability –

For Garcia Salmones, memories of abuse still haunt him today.

“I was studying at the Claretian school in Madrid, I was 14 and one day the priest jumped on me and continued to mistreat me every day for almost a whole year,” he said. .

On one occasion, he was “abused by the priest and another person who entered the room”, which led him to conclude that the school “knew what was going on and was protecting” his attacker.

He did not speak about his ordeal until he was 40, but by then the crime was too old to be investigated.

The priest he accused of abuse died in 2009 “without any responsibility”.

After Garcia Salmones went public in 2018, he said the school decided to prevent further abuse, with a management statement stressing its “zero tolerance” for such conduct and its commitment “to always investigate any inappropriate behavior of its members “.

But he says the first reaction of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference (EEC) was to dismiss his account as “an attempt to seek financial compensation”.

– ‘Denigration and denial’ –

The Episcopal Conference refused an interview with AFP.

In a written response, he said he had put in place “action protocols where cases of abuse have been identified and specific training for people working with young people and children”.

She “was aware of 220 cases which had been investigated since 2001”, and had set up “child protection and abuse prevention” offices in her 70 dioceses where complaints could be lodged. .

These offices could also “assist victims” and “investigate, to the extent possible, the circumstances in which (abuse) occurred”.

According to the EWC’s website, its 2010 protocol for action outlined steps such as banning anyone accused of abuse from working with children.

In 2019, a commission presented a draft decree on child protection, which remains unfinished.

But the Church has ruled out any exhaustive investigation.

“We are not going to engage proactively in a thorough investigation of the matter”, declared in September Mgr Luis Arguello, secretary general of the EEC.

The Church “gives the impression of doing something but it is not,” explains Juan Cuatrecasas, head of the victims association Infancia Robada, or “stolen childhood” in English.

“He does his homework very quickly and very badly,” he says, pointing to a larger picture of “block and denial.”

– ‘Damage to human rights’ –

Jesus Zudaire, who runs a victims association in northern Navarre and has himself been mistreated, says Spain could “easily” have a number of cases similar to France.

It highlights the power of the Church in Spanish society and its comfortable agreement with the decades-long dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which ended in 1975.

El Pais newspaper began investigating allegations of abuse in 2018 and has since received details of 932 cases.

By failing to take a proactive approach, the Church “violates human rights” and inflicts more harm on victims, says activist Cuatrecasas, whose 24-year-old son was abused by a teacher of Catholic school in Bilbao between 2008 and 2010.

The teacher was initially sentenced to 11 years in prison, but the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to two years and, as the first offender, he spent no time behind bars.

Although the Church follows abuse prevention protocols consistent with those established by the Vatican, victim groups want the Spanish government to intervene with the legislation to prevent Church cover-ups.

Earlier this year, Spain’s parliament approved a child protection law extending the statute of limitations for abuse cases, meaning survivors can report abuse up to 15 years after age 35 years old.

Previously, the clock started at 18.

Although victims wanted the legislation to be retroactive, they hailed this step as a positive first step.

du / hmw / chz / jv

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