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Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the Episcopal Conference, during the meeting of the EEC. Daniel González / EFE
Bishops in Spain hit back and say most alleged sexual abuse is committed outside the Church
Religion

Bishops in Spain hit back and say most alleged sexual abuse is committed outside the Church

A meeting of the Bishops' Conference claimed a damning Ombudsman's report revealing alleged large-scale abuse within the Catholic Church did not "correspond to the truth"

Antonio Paniagua

Madrid

Wednesday, 1 November 2023, 10:50

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Bishops have hit back in response to a survey that revealed some 445,000 adults may have suffered sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Spain by claiming the alleged crimes occurred outside the organisation.

The Bishops' Conference, which spent this week studying the Ombudsman's survey and report on clerical paedophilia, claimed most of the abuse occurred within the family and outside the Church. "The abuses committed in the Church are painful. But the extrapolation of the data obtained in a survey attached to the report is also surprising. It does not correspond to the truth, nor does it represent all the priests and religious personnel who work loyally and with dedication of their lives in the service of the Kingdom," the said. "To focus exclusively on reparations for Church victims would discriminate against the majority, making them second-class victims," they added.

Survey

Social research firm GAD3 carried out the research for the Ombudsman which estimated that 1.13% of the country's current adult population (some 445,000 people) could have suffered abuse when they were minors in the Catholic Church. A total of 0.6% (some 236,000) said they suffered this type of aggression by priests and other religious personnel. The Church hierarchy rejected the allegations and said in the report there are no overall figures for the number of victims.

"Along with the responsibility of the church in the issue of abuse, for which members of this plenary assembly have asked for forgiveness, the Ombudsman's study presents a general vision of the problem that goes beyond the church: sexual abuse of minors is a social problem to which all public and private institutions have a duty to respond," the Bishops' Conference said.

The organisation will decide at its next meeting later this month what it will do with the external audit commissioned by law firm Cremades & Calvo Sotelo. In a month's time they will decide whether to extend the deadline for the experts to continue their investigation. The Bishops' Conference issued an ultimatum to the firm to deliver its report within ten days, but the firm refused to comply.

The firm has removed lawyer Alfredo Dagnino, former president of the Catholic Association of Propagandists and a man close to the most conservative wing of the bishops. An incomplete part of the audit reached the bishops thanks to Dagnino. The first results, still to be completed, caused confusion among some bishops, who consider the study to be contradictory and technically inconsistent.

Ombudsman's report

The bishops also studied the report prepared by the Ombudsman. They invited Ángel Gabilondo to attend the meeting, but the head of the Ombudsman declined to participate for "personal reasons", according to the Church. The ecclesiastical leadership said it made "a first approach to its work, valuing, in a special way, the testimony collected from the victims, which makes it possible to place the victims at the centre. The recommendations proposed in this report were also considered valuable".

They urged the state "to implement the recommendations that the report makes to its various institutions, to assume its responsibility in the joint task of putting an end to this scourge that affects the whole of society".

'Strategy of concealment and denial'

Government spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez urged the Church to offer a response to the victims of sexual abuse within its ranks. The minister demanded the bishops take "good note" of the Ombudsman's report on cases of clerical pederasty, cases in which, according to the investigation led by Gabilondo, there was a strategy of concealment and denial. "Perhaps we are arriving late, but it is always better to arrive than to take it for closed," she said.

According to the government, the Ombudsman's investigation makes it possible to start to settle a "debt" the country owed to the victims of "these terrible crimes". "What we are going to do is to take good note of the recommendations it makes in order to address them in the coming years, in the same way that the political parties and groups represented in the Spanish parliament must do," a spokesperson said.

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