An independent Spanish commission revealed on Friday that more than 200,000 people were victims of sexual assault by clerics when they were minors. Unlike France, Germany, Ireland and the United States, Spain, a country with a strong Catholic tradition, has never before carried out an independent investigation into this scourge.
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After the Sauvé report in France, Spain is in turn trying to lift the veil on the taboo of sexual abuse within the Church: the number of people having been victims of sexual assault by religious figures while they were minors could exceed 200,000, according to the estimate on Friday October 27 of an independent commission of inquiry into child crime in the Catholic Church.
The report does not provide precise figures, but contains a survey carried out at the request of this commission among more than 8,000 people, according to which 0.6% of the Spanish adult population (nearly 39 million people) claimed to have were sexually assaulted, while they were minors, by religious figures.
Additionally, a slightly lower number of Spaniards (0.53%) reported being sexually assaulted as minors by lay people working in religious institutions.
These estimates are recorded in a report submitted Friday to the Congress of Spanish Deputies by the Defender of the People (equivalent to the Defender of Rights in France), Ángel Gabilondo, at the end of the work of an independent commission, the first established in this country to evaluate the extent of child crime in the Catholic Church.
The report is critical of the attitude of the Catholic Church, deploring that its reaction to cases of child crime within it was “insufficient”.
Among the measures proposed in the report is the creation by the State of a fund to pay reparations to victims.
Ángel Gabilondo clarified during a press conference that the cases mainly concern the period “from 1970 to the present.”
Unlike France, Germany, Ireland and the United States, Spain, a country with a strong Catholic tradition, has never before carried out an independent investigation into this scourge.
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A situation which the Spanish deputies had wished to remedy by deciding in March 2022 the creation of a commission of experts responsible for “shedding light” on the “execrable personal acts committed against defenseless children” within the Church Spanish.
They had entrusted the direction of this commission to the People’s Defender, giving it the objective of determining “responsibilities” in cases of sexual violence, of offering “reparation” to victims and of preventing new cases.
To carry out its work, the commission relied on experts in law and victim assistance, as well as on the testimonies of the victims themselves.
The Spanish Church reluctant to an investigation
Even before the presentation of the report, the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church had announced that it would hold an extraordinary plenary assembly next Monday during which the bishops will debate the report.
The Church, which for years refused any in-depth investigation, did not want to participate in the work of the commission. However, she agreed to provide him in March with information on cases of child abuse collected by the dioceses.
Faced with growing political pressure and accusations of obstruction, it took a first step in February 2022 by launching its own external audit, entrusted to the law firm Cremades & Calvo Sotelo.
Despite the injunctions of the Episcopal Conference, which had ordered the law firm a few weeks ago to publish its report within ten days, the results of this audit should only be presented at the end of the year, after publication of a summary in November.
The Church, which claims in its defense to have put in place protocols for the treatment of sexual violence, as well as “child protection” offices within the dioceses, admitted in June to having collected the testimony of 927 victims.
This figure was, however, far below the 2,206 victims counted by the Spanish daily El País, which created its own database in 2018. The first cases date back to 1927.
The Madrid daily also identified 1,036 religious people accused of sexual assault on minors.
“According to experts, this is only the tip of the iceberg,” wrote El País on Friday. The report published the same day proves him right.
For comparison, the independent commission led by Jean-Marc Sauvé had identified 216,000 minor victims since 1950 in France. In Germany, a study identified 3,677 cases between 1946 and 2014. In Ireland, more than 14,500 people received financial compensation through a mechanism created by the government.