10 May 2024, The Tablet

Spanish bishops protest government ‘obsession’ with Church abuse

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference said the government’s five-point plan to respond to abuse largely matched the Church’s own strategy.

Spanish bishops protest government ‘obsession’ with Church abuse

Archbishop Jesús Sanz Montes of Oviedo objected to a government plan for victims of abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church.
Archdiocese of Oviedo / CNA

The Archbishop of Oviedo has accused the Spanish government of presenting “only the Catholic Church” as guilty of harbouring sexual abuse.

Archbishop Jesús Sanz Montes said the focus on sexual abuse in the Church was “a kind of obsessive mantra” deployed “every time they need a smoke screen to distract from the real problems we have”.

He was reacting to a government plan for victims of abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church.

The plan follows the publication in October 2023 of a parliamentary report investigating abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church, conducted by Ángel Gabilondo, the national ombudsman.

The inquiry included a sample survey of 8,013 people, of whom 1.13 per cent were affected by abuse in the Church, just over half of it perpetrated by clergy and religious. The report also claimed the Spanish hierarchy had failed to co-operate properly with its work.

Estimates extrapolated from the survey claimed there were a potential 440,000 victims across the Spanish population. That figure was dismissed by the head of the polling firm as a “statistical delusion”.  

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference said the five-point plan produced in response to the report largely matched the Church’s own strategy to recognise, care for and compensate victims as well as to raise awareness of abuse through training, and to prevent future abuse through reporting and investigating allegations.

The conference said the government’s focus on compensating only victims of clerical abuse excluded “nine out of every 10 victims” of sexual abuse in Spanish society. A spokesman said: “The Church cannot accept measures that would discriminate against the majority of victims.”

Some abuse survivors in Spain have accused the government of trying to “rescue” or bail out the Church at the expense of victims or taxpayers.

Ana Cuevas, director of la Asociación Nacional Infancia Robada (the “National Association of Stolen Childhood”) said she was “perplexed” by the government plan, which victims were not aware of before its announcement.

“This issue rests on three pillars: the state, the victims and the Church,” she said. “If the victims are not part of this, it cannot work.”

One victim, Miguel Hurtado, said the scheme “benefitted the bishops at the cost of the victims and the tax payer” and was “offering the bishops an economic bail out”.

According to the daily El País, the government plan does not include a gauge for calculating compensation for victims, “which is a decisive factor, as has proved the case in other countries”.

El País observed that while amounts given by individual dioceses to victims had varied, “in Spain, the yardstick for compensation is usually the amounts given for traffic accidents, which are low.”

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