Spanish bishops will not participate in civil abuse inquiry

Spain’s bishops say they will not take part in the national legislature-organised commission into clerical sexual abuse.

They allege the commission won’t look into all sexual abuse of minors but only those committed by members of the Catholic Church.

Of Spain’s 15,000 open cases, the vast majority were committed by people who are not part of the Church.

“We want to state that to carry out an investigation of abuses only in the church, when it is clear that out of 15,000 open cases in Spain, only 69 refer to the church, is a surprising decision,” says Bishop Luis Argüello, spokesman of the Spanish bishops’ conference (pictured).

The regional government of Catalonia’s investigation makes more sense, he says. It will look into all cases of abuse of minors, including those committed by the Church.

Argüello says the bishops have informed the national government of their decision, although they will “collaborate with civil authorities” within the framework demanded by Spanish law.

Argüello is also calling for “collaboration and prudence so as not to exaggerate and not to revictimise the victims.”

In March, the Spanish congress voted in favour of creating a commission of experts responsible for conducting the first nationwide investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the country.

Just days earlier, the bishops’ conference announced that it would carry out its own investigation into historical abuse cases, along the lines of other conferences in the US, Ireland, France and Portugal.

There is no official data on the size of the problem. However, a 2018 Spanish newspaper El País investigation identified 1,246 victims since the 1930s.

The Cremades law firm will carry out both the church and state investigations.

Argüello said the church’s approach to opening the diocesan archives “will be carried out taking into account civil and canonical legislation and the law on data protection.”

He warns the archives may not be as useful as some might hope.

For instance, in a recent case they investigated, a spokesperson says “We have had no evidence, either in diocesan documents or in people close to the person denounced.”

Some victims’ associations are wary of the Cremades law firm that will carry out the bishops’ review, because it is founded and led by a member of Opus Dei.

Given this, Argüello is appealing to all victims and “those who know of cases of abuse” to “use any channel they consider necessary to report” abuse – the justice system, the media, or the church.

He also suggested survivors take part in the investigation being carried out by the Cremades law firm or the one by the Ombudsman’s office.

Argüello explained that the prelates’ desire for Cremades to undertake an external audit has been motivated by two things: an evaluation of the work being carried out at a diocesan level and the pressure from the media.

What matters is what society as a whole can do together, without the church “assuming the role of a scapegoat, so that an awareness arises in society that ensures the problem of abuse can be addressed in its full magnitude,” he says.


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