Spain’s bishops welcome government commission to investigate sex abuse

Kevin J. Jones   By Kevin J. Jones for CNA


Toledo Cathedral in Toledo, Spain. / Nikthestunned via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Madrid, Spain, Mar 11, 2022 / 16:36 pm (CNA).

The Spanish parliament has overwhelmingly approved the creation of an independent commission to investigate alleged sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, assigning the country’s ombudsman to lead the investigation.

Bishop Luis Argüello, secretary and spokesman for the bishops’ conference, said March 11 that the choice to create an ombudsman was “the most respectful for the victims.”

“All initiatives that allow for revelations (of abuse) and help to put an end to the scourge of abuse in the Church and in society will always have our support.”

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in a comment on Twitter, characterized the move as “a first step to try to repair the pain of the victims, who had not been heard until now.”

The ombudsman heading the commission is Ángel Gabilondo, 72. He is a philosophy professor and a former member of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, which he left in the late 1970s.

He was named ombudsman in November in an agreement between the center-left ruling coalition and the leading conservative party in the opposition. Gabilondo was an education minister under the Socialist-led government from 2009 to 2011.

The commission will begin discussion with victims’ advocacy groups at the start of 2023.

Three left-wing parties had proposed to open a full parliamentary commission to investigate. Instead, lawmakers formed a consensus to keep the probe separate from politics, the Associated Press reports. The right-wing Vox party was the only political party to oppose the independent commission.

Additionally, Spain’s Attorney General Dolores Delgado has requested that the 17 head prosecutors of the country’s autonomous regional governments remit all open criminal proceedings for sexual abuse committed by members of the Church and other religious groups.

In February, Spain’s Catholic bishops commissioned a law firm to conduct an independent investigation of sex abuse committed by Church members, including clergy, teachers, and others. The independent audit will be administered by the Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo law firm. It is intended to create a “comprehensive report” of all clerical sex abuse cases. It is expected to take a year to complete.

Law firm partner Javier Cremades said last month that this independent investigation will collaborate with the government.

On March 11 the Spanish Bishops’ Conference said that there have been 506 sexual abuse complaints alleged against members of the Church in the last two years. This is the analysis of complaints received through child abuse prevention offices in 60 dioceses and religious congregations. In 103 of these complaints, the alleged perpetrator had already died. The vast majority of the complaints, about 300, involve incidents which took place more than 30 years ago.

Other investigations have produced other numbers, and it is unclear if there is any overlap between cases.

In December the Spanish newspaper El País delivered a report to Pope Francis and the Spanish bishops’ conference about possible abuse cases committed by 251 priests or laity from religious institutions over a period of more than 70 years, from 1943 to 2018. The report indicates some 1,200 alleged cases of abuse were reported in that period.

Argüello, the bishops’ spokesman, said March 11 that the bishops want to offer “recognition and reparation” to all abuse victims.

“The Church remains committed to developing training processes to avoid abuse and remove those people who show that they are unworthy,” he said. “The truth shines, so that there are no wolves that dress up as lambs and be shepherds, but also so that tens of thousands of people who give their lives in educational, catechetical and missionary activity are not subject to permanent suspicion.”

According to a report by the independent foundation Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk, cases of sexual abuse committed by people related to the Church represent 0.2% of the total victims of sexual abuse in Spain.

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