The Ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, hands over the report. EP
Survey finds up to 440,000 people in Spain may have suffered sexual abuse within the Catholic Church

Survey finds up to 440,000 people in Spain may have suffered sexual abuse within the Catholic Church

A new Ombudsman report has been presented to Congress revealing just how widespread the problem was at the hands of priests, teachers and others. So far, the Church has only recognised 728 cases of abuse, resulting in 927 victims

Antonio Paniagua


Monday, 30 October 2023


Between 236,000 and 445,000 Spanish adults may have suffered sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, according to the findings of a major survey. Social research firm GAD3 carried out the research for the Ombudsman, the institution that has been investigating the issue as per a parliamentary mandate.

The final report was delivered last Friday 27 October by the head of the organisation Ángel Gabilondo, to the president of Congress Francina Armengol, where it was revealed 0.6% of the population questioned claimed they sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest. The percentage rises to 1.13% if the abuse is considered at the hands of anyone within the "religious sphere", which includes catechists, monitors and teachers working for the clergy.

"For too long [church authorities] have remained inactive in the face of the reality of sexual abuse and have not made the necessary efforts to protect minors," the report pointed out. It recommended the creation of a state fund to award compensation to victims of abuse, with the Church playing a "fundamental" role in the fund.

'A devastating impact'

While Gabilondo repeatedly refused to quantify the number of victims, the survey shows that the magnitude of the phenomenon reaches hundreds of thousands of victims. According to the findings, 11.7% of those interviewed claim to have been sexually abused before the age of 18. Meanwhile, 3.36% of those interviewed said the abuse took place in the family environment. Of all those interviewed who admit to having suffered abuse, 5% are said to have been perpetrated by clerics. "The testimonies collected reveal the devastating impact that sexual abuse has had on the lives of individual people," Gabilondo said.

Experts of the Victims Assistance Unit set up by the institution gathered "relevant information on 487 victims" revealing three quarters (84%) are men. During interviews, the victims admitted suffering from emotional and behavioural problems. According to the report, one third of them "reported post-traumatic stress symptoms and some of them had experienced depressive symptoms, feelings of shame and thought about suicide".

The Ombudsman was commissioned to investigate sexual abuse in the Church in March 2022. Gabilondo pointed out that it was enough time as there comes a point when investigations stop providing new information. "I would be lying if I said that there has been extraordinary collaboration on the part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy," said Gabilondo, who asked the Catholic leadership to hold a symbolic act of homage for the victims. "I hope I am not alone," the head of the institution added.

927 victims, according to the Church

The only data provided by the Church is based on a report published in June in which bishops recognised 728 cases of abuse, resulting in 927 victims. But it is incomplete as the report did not count cases since 2019. This Monday the bishops will have the opportunity to explain themselves after they called an extraordinary assembly.

Gabilondo pointed out that the Church's response has been characterised for years by "denial or "minimising the problem". The 777-page document also said that some victims have had to face not only concealment, but even "pressure" and reactions from clerics who blamed them for what happened.

The report proposes a score of recommendations, including "holding a public act of recognition to the victims for such a long period of neglect, particularly between 1970 and 2020". Gabilondo said the Church's response to the victims is "insufficient and dilatory" and criticised decisions taken by the clergy such as transferring abusers to other parishes, schools and even sending them abroad. Gabilondo claimed that he has tried to contact all the prelates, but not all of them have been willing to collaborate. "Some have reprimanded us, although others have done well," he said.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said the presentation of the report made the day (Friday) "very important" for Spain. "We are a slightly better country because a reality has been made known that everyone has known about for many years, but which nobody talked about or did not talk about in the terms that have begun to be talked about today," he added.

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