Emilio Morenatti Associated Press Faithful attend a mass in the Sagrada Família, in Barcelona, July 7.
More than 200,000 minors could have been victims of sexual assault by religious figures in Spain, according to an estimate published Friday by 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 been sexually assaulted, while they were minors, by clerics.
In addition, a slightly lower number of Spaniards (0.53%) reported being sexually assaulted while they were minors by lay people working in religious institutions.
These estimates are contained in a report submitted Friday to the Congress of Spanish Deputies by the Defender of the People (equivalent in France to the Defender of Rights), 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 has been “insufficient” .
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Among the measures proposed in the report is the creation by the State of a fund to pay reparations to victims.
Mr. 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.
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 “abhorrent personal acts committed against defenseless children” within the Spanish Church.
They had entrusted the leadership 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.
“Tip of the Iceberg”
Shortly before the report was even presented, the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church announced that it would hold an extraordinary plenary assembly next Monday during which the bishops will debate the report.
The Church, which refused for years any in-depth investigation, did not want to participate in the work of the commission. However, she agreed to provide him with information in March 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 from 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 the 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 clerics 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 Friday proves him right.
For comparison, an independent commission had identified 216,000 minor victims since 1950 in France. In Germany, a study documented 3,677 cases between 1946 and 2014, and in Ireland, more than 14,500 people received financial compensation through a mechanism created by the government.