Spanish government voted an investigation on Church sex abuse

The government of Spain voted for an investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. A month earlier, the Church said it hired a private law firm to make its own probe.

Church of Saint Jerome the Royal in Madrid, Spain
Church of Saint Jerome the Royal in Madrid | © Luiz Felipe S. C., 2021

Spanish lawmakers are tasking the country’s ombudsman with the first official investigation into the depth of sexual abuse committed by members of Spain’s Roman Catholic church.

All lawmakers, except for members of a far-right party that holds roughly 15% of the seats in Spain’s Congress of Deputies, on March 10 supported the proposal introduced by socialists and a Basque nationalist party.

The vote was momentous on the back of increasing public pressure about sex abuse and an admission of the problem by some Catholic orders and bishops.

The Spanish Episcopal Conference for years rejected an investigation. However, it announced last month a private law firm would review past and present sexual abuses in the Church. The inquiry is meant to cover abuse by the clergy, teachers and others associated with the Church.

But some abuse survivors remained skeptical about its genuine intention. Fernando García Salmones, a spokesperson for the Robbed Childhood Association, called the audit a “maneuver to deter attention” because the Church would dictate its terms to a law firm devoted to the Catholic order.

Spain’s leading newspaper, El País, has compiled records of more than 600 cases of abuse involving twice as many victims, although the real number is believed to be much higher.

Church’s hierarchy also reportedly dismissed many allegations, ignored the victims and obstructed investigations, often moving priests to new parishes or overseas missionary stints, where they could perpetuate their abuses.

The political parties ended up supporting leaving the probe in the hands of ombudsman Ángel Gabilondo, a former member of a Catholic brotherhood and former education minister from 2009 to 2011. They thought it guaranteed that the church would be held accountable.

In a tweet, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that the probe is “a first step in trying to repair the pain of victims, who had not been heard until now.”

Earlier this year, Portugal also started a Church-funded independent investigation while it has faced similar reluctance among the Church for an in-house review.

A few countries – the United States, Australia, Ireland, France, Germany – have recently conducted inquiries about sexual abuse in the Church.

But even fewer governments initiated a probe similar to Spain’s.

Religion has been dissociated from the state since the 1978 constitution that the country is a democracy but the Catholic Church remains rooted in Spanish culture and traditions.

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