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Spanish legislature may create commission to investigate sex abuse in Church

February 4, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
The Palacio de las Cortes in Madrid, where Spain’s Congress of Deputies meets. / Luis García via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Madrid, Spain, Feb 4, 2022 / 10:39 am (CNA).

Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies, agreed Feb. 1 to debate the creation of a commission to investigate sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic Church.

The request to create the commission was filed by Podemos, a left-wing party that is part of the governing coalition, as well as the Republican Left of Catalonia and EH Bildu, Catalan and Basque nationist parties that give confidence and supply to the government.

The People’s Party and Vox, which are in the opposition, voted against the commission and made a motion that all cases of the abuse of minors be investigated and not just those that have taken place in areas related to religious institutions.

However, this motion was vetoed by Podemos and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the largest group in the ruling coalition.

In the coming weeks, the Congress will vote on whether to create the investigative commission.

Bishop Luis Javier Argüello Garcia, Auxiliary Bishop of Valladolid and spokesman and general secretary of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, said in a Feb. 2 interview with Ràdio Estel, the radio station of the Archdiocese of Barcelona, that if this investigative commission on sexual abuse in the Church is created, “political issues and the need for support (from other parties) will be more influential than the real interest of the victims of all abuses.”

“Experience tells us that these commissions are more of a platform for clashes between political parties than a search for the truth,” he said.

Bishop Argüello told Ràdio Estel that the parties promoting the investigation “are issuing a blanket judgement, saying that the Church isn’t a safe space,” and that “if there were real concern about all the abuse of minors, the commission would be different; it’s a problem for all of Spanish society that not only affects members of the Church.”

The Attorney General’s Office of Spain ordered Jan. 31 the head prosecutors of the country’s 17 regional autonomous governments to remit all open criminal proceedings for sexual abuse committed by members of the Church in Spain.

This procedure initiated by Spain’s Attorney General requires the head prosecutors to send, within 10 days, the complaints or charges in process that affect congregations, Catholic schools, dioceses, and any religious institution, not only Catholic, that have been initiated.

The Attorney General’s Office also stated that this requirement “doesn’t exhaust measures that the Government is studying to determine the facts and to prevent these incidents from being repeated.”

Sources in the Spanish Bishops’ Conference told Europa Press that “all the investigations carried out by the Judiciary “on the abuses committed against minors in the Church and in society are “well received, to the extent that they contribute to ending this social scourge.”

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.

Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona, president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, said during a press conference following his ad limina visit last month, that “in face of the issue of abuse, we all feel the great pain over that fact, in the midst of the society, and the desire at all times for our closeness (to the victims). All of us bishops have established commissions in each diocese to receive the complaints, to accompany those people who feel wounded and prevent these things from happening in the future, we have to use all means. We are clear on this and we have discussed this with the (Congregation of the) Doctrine of the Faith and with the pope.”

Since the publication of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis Lux mundi in 2019, each diocese as well as religious institutions have offices to serve the victims in order to facilitate reporting and confirm the application of the action protocols.

The motu proprio norms also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

The request to create a commission to investigate cases of sexual abuse by members of the Church took place after the newspaper El País delivered a report in December to Pope Francis and the Spanish Bishops’ Conference with possible abuse cases committed by 251 priests or laity from religious institutions.

The bishops’ conference noted that “it would be desirable for the accusations contained in the aforementioned report to be more rigorous, since its content, of a very disparate nature, makes it difficult to draw conclusions that could be used for a possible investigation.”


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Theodore McCarrick faces new sex abuse lawsuit in New Jersey

September 16, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick arrives at Massachusetts’ Dedham District Courthouse for his arraignment, Sept. 3, 2021. / Andrew Bukuras/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Three sex abuse lawsuits, including one naming disgraced former archbishop Theodore McCarrick as the alleged abuser, were filed on Thursday, Sept. 16 in a New Jersey court. All three lawsuits also named the Diocese of Metuchen as a defendant.

Jeffrey Anderson, a prominent attorney who represents sex abuse victims, brought the lawsuits. In an online press conference on Thursday, Anderson called on the Metuchen diocese to release additional information on accusations against current and former clergy. 

“We challenge you to account and take responsibility for each of these cases, and also challenge you to come clean with the full truth,” Anderson said.  “[We] invite you, implore you, to release more names and information that have been kept secret by the Diocese of Metuchen for too long.”

The first lawsuit filed named McCarrick, who served as the first bishop of the diocese from 1981 until 1986, as the abuser in question. According to the lawsuit, McCarrick engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with the plaintiff while he was bishop of Metuchen from approximately 1982 to 1985. The plaintiff was between the ages of 19 and 22 during that period.

McCarrick’s attorney Barry Coburn declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday. 

McCarrick, 91, on July 28 was criminally charged in a Massachusetts court with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14. The incidents allegedly took place with a 16-year-old male in the 1970s. McCarrick appeared for his arraignment on Sept. 3 in Massachusetts’ Dedham District Court, and pleaded “not guilty” to the charges. His next court date is Oct. 28.

He was once an influential and high-ranking figure in the Catholic Church, before numerous accusations against him were made public in 2018, alleging past sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. McCarrick was laicized in February 2019, after a Vatican canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

The second lawsuit filed on Thursday named Fr. John Butler, a laicized priest who died in 2016, as the alleged abuser of a minor. Butler, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, served in numerous dioceses throughout his career including in Metuchen. 

According to the lawsuit, Butler engaged in umpermitted sexual contact with a minor between the ages of 9 to 12, from approximately 1995 to 1998. The plaintiff was attending St. John Vianney school in Colonia, New Jersey at the time, where Fr. Butler was employed.

Butler was removed from public ministry in 2002 and was laicized shortly thereafter. He is not on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen, but does appear on the list of accused priests from the Diocese of Richmond, his home diocese. 

The third lawsuit names Br. Regis Moccia, S.C. of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who similarly does not appear on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen. Moccia is accused of abusing a young teen at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, in 1981 and 1982. He died in 2000. 

Moccia was first accused of abuse in a September 2020 lawsuit; Anderson claimed that this suit inspired another alleged victim of his to come forward. 

“It’s also notable that Moccia is not on the list [of credibly-accused clergy] released by the Diocese of Metuchen, even though that suit has been brought by us naming him as an offender of children at St. Joseph’s high school in Metuchen, earlier,” Anderson said on Thursday.  

Anderson called on the Diocese of Metuchen to release additional names of credibly accused clergy, and claimed that there are at least 15 additional names that have not yet been released.

The Diocese of Metuchen did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication on Thursday. 

New Jersey in 2019 relaxed the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases, allowing for new lawsuits in old cases of child sex abuse and sex abuse of adults. The two-year window for such lawsuits to be filed expires Nov. 30.

Anderson has filed other civil sex abuse lawsuits naming McCarrick. In July, he filed a civil lawsuit in a New Jersey court accusing McCarrick of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy in 1986.

In July 2020, Anderson filed a lawsuit alleging that McCarrick had sexually abused a boy and aided his abuse by several other priests in the early 1980s, characterizing McCarrick as leading a “sex ring.”

Anderson has sued many Catholic dioceses and religious orders over the years. While some say he has been an effective advocate for sex abuse victims, critics say he has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation, and that he is a self-promoter.

According to the lawsuit naming McCarrick, the plaintiff’s family resided in the Archdiocese of New York and had contact with McCarrick while he was a representative of the archdiocese. McCarrick was a priest secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke of New York beginning in 1971, and served as auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese from 1977 until 1981, when he was made bishop of Metuchen.

McCarrick later served as Archbishop of the Archdioceses of Newark and Washington, and played an influential role in the global Catholic Church. He helped craft the U.S. Church’s response to revelations of widespread clergy sex abuse in 2002. He also made numerous international trips for peacebuilding and ecumenical causes, and was known as an effective fundraiser.

In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York revealed that a decades-old allegation of sex abuse against McCarrick was “credible.” News reports subsequently detailed more allegations of McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. According to a July 2018 New York Times report, Metuchen was one of the dioceses to have reached a settlement with a former priest, regarding allegations of abuse against McCarrick committed while the priest was a seminarian.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and was laicized in February 2019. He is the first U.S. Catholic cardinal to be criminally charged with sex abuse.

The Vatican in November 2020 released a report of more than 450 pages on the “institutional knowledge and decision-making” regarding McCarrick and his clerical career.