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Spanish bishops question spin on government’s sex abuse report

Spanish religious procession


John Burger - published on 11/12/23

Extrapolating figures to suggest 440,000 victims is deceitful, says Cardinal Omella.

A Spanish government report about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church found that 0.6% of adults interviewed reported having been abused by a Catholic priest or religious. Even when abuse was perpetrated by lay Catholics employed by Church institutions, the figure went up only to 1.13%. 

The 779-page report, commissioned by Spain’s Parliament, interviewed 8,013 adults. Some media outlets have suggested that its findings would mean that 440,000 people in Spain have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the Spanish bishops conference, said that such a calculation “is a lie and is intended to deceive.”

Reuters reported that an internal Church investigation published in June identified 728 alleged sexual abusers among Spain’s clergy and 927 victims since the 1940s. That followed a 2021 report in El Pais newspaper that identified more than 1,200 alleged cases.

Money for all

The bishops’ conference held an extraordinary meeting after the release of the government report and expressed “pain for the damage caused by some Church members with the sex abuses and repeated their request to the victims for forgiveness.”

The conference agreed to contribute to a national fund for victims of sexual abuse, but only if the money is used for victims in other areas besides the Church, such as educational establishments and sporting federations.

“If the fund is only for Church victims, 90% of the victims of abuse overall will not have any right to this compensation and will be excluded,” said Bishop Francisco César García Magán, the conference’s secretary general.

Abuse in the family

The Spanish news portal COPE pointed out that although there is more sexual abuse within family settings – 34% or all cases – that figure “does not provoke any special study, reflection, headlines, or scandal.”

The new report, produced by the Spanish Ombudsman Ángel Gabilondo, acknowledged that child sexual abuse is “a reality both in families and in other areas of social interaction in which minors come into contact with adults.”

“There is evidence to support the fact that clericalism, which is strongly rooted within the heart of the Catholic Church, sacralization of priests as representatives of God on Earth, the solitude of many clergymen and problematic recognition of sexuality are factors that may have fostered this sexual abuse expressed as an abuse of power over children and adolescents or people who are subject to a relationship characterised by psychological or spiritual dominance,” an official summary of Gabilondo’s report says. 

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