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Catholic Church

Spanish clergy sexually abused over 200,000 children, independent commission estimates

The revelations in Spain are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church after a series of scandals around the world.

OVER 200,000 minors are estimated to have been sexually abused in Spain by the Roman Catholic clergy since 1940, according to an independent commission published today.

The report did not give a specific figure but said a poll of over 8,000 people found that 0.6% of Spain’s adult population of around 39 million people said they had suffered sexual abuse by members of the clergy when they were still children.

The percentage rises to 1.13% – or over 400,000 people – when including abuse by lay members, Spain’s national ombudsman Angel Gabilondo told a news conference called to present the findings of the report.

The revelations in Spain are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.

But unlike in other nations, in Spain - a traditionally Catholic country that has become highly secular – clerical abuse allegations are only now gaining traction, leading to accusations by survivors of stonewalling.

“Unfortunately, for many years there has been a certain desire to deny abuses or a desire to conceal or protect the abusers,” said Gabilondo, a former education minister.

The report is critical of the attitude of the Catholic Church, calling its response to cases of child abuse involving the clergy “insufficient”. It recommended the creation of a state fund to pay reparations to victims.

Child protection offices

Just before the report was presented in parliament, the Spanish bishops conference said it would hold an extraordinary meeting on Monday to discuss its findings.

Spain’s parliament in March 2022 overwhelmingly approved the creation of an independent commission led by the country’s ombudsman to “shed light” on allegations of sexual abuse of “defenceless boys and girls” within the Catholic Church.

Spain’s Catholic Church, which for years flatly refused to carry out its own probe, declined to take part in the independent investigation, although it did cooperate by providing documents on cases of sexual abuse that had been collected by dioceses.

But as political pressure mounted, it tasked a private law firm in February 2022 with an “audit” into past and present sexual abuse by clergy, teachers and others associated with the Church, which should be completed by the end of the year.

The Spanish Church said in June it had discovered 927 cases of child abuse through a complaints procedure launched in 2020.

It argues it has set up protocols for dealing with sexual abuse and has set up “child protection” offices withing dioceses.

‘Tip of iceberg’

But a probe by top-selling daily newspaper El Pais which began in 2018 has since uncovered 2,206 victims and 1,036 alleged abusers dating back to 1927.

“According to experts, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the newspaper wrote today before the report was published.

The Church’s abuse crisis exploded onto the international stage in 2002 when the Boston Globe newspaper revealed priests had sexually abused children for decades and church leaders had covered it up.

Patterns of widespread abuse of children were later reported across the United States and Europe, in Chile and Australia, undercutting the moral authority of the 1.3 billion-member Church and taking a toll on its membership.

An independent commission in neighbouring France concluded in 2021 that some 216,000 children – mostly boys – had been sexually abused by clergy since 1950.

In Germany a study found 3,677 cases of abuse between 1946 and 2014 while in Ireland more than 14,500 people received compensation though a government scheme for those abused at juvenile facilities run by the Catholic Church.

© AFP 2023

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