Spain's Estimate of Church Abuse Victims Is Staggering

New report suggests hundreds of thousands of minors in the Catholic Church were abused
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 27, 2023 2:40 PM CDT
Spain's Estimate of Church Abuse Victims Is Staggering
A priest gives a mass in the Almudena Crypt, a cavernous late-19th century Catholic temple under Madrid's Almudena cathedral, in central Madrid, Spain, in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Paul White)

Spain's first official investigation into sex abuse by clergy members or other people connected to the Catholic Church in the country included a survey suggesting the number of victims could run into hundreds of thousands. The survey was part of a damning report by the office of Spain's ombudsman following an 18-month independent investigation of 487 cases involving reported victims who spoke with the ombudsman's team, the AP reports. Ombudsman Ángel Gabilondo criticized the church's response to abuse scandals, saying it had often been to minimize if not deny the problem. He presented the nearly 800-page report to the speaker of the Spanish parliament's lower house on Friday and then to reporters.

"This is a necessary report to respond to a situation of suffering and loneliness that for years has remained, in one way or another, covered by an unfair silence," Gabilondo said in a statement. He acknowledged that the church had taken steps to address both abuse by priests and efforts to cover up the scandal but said they were not enough. Included in the report were findings from a survey based on 8,000 phone and online responses. The poll said 1.13% of the adults questioned said they were abused as children by either priests or lay members of the church, including teachers at religious schools.

Given that Spain's adult population stands close to 39 million, that would mean some 440,000 minors could have been sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests, members of a religious order, and lay members of the church in recent decades. Conducted by GAD3, a prominent opinion pollster in Spain, the survey had a margin of sampling error for all respondents of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points. The ombudsman did not extrapolate the findings into a count of possible victims but said the percentages were in line with reports in other European countries. The report calls for a public event to recognize victims, the creation of a state fund to pay compensation, and for the Catholic Church to provide a way to help victims in the recovery process and introduce reforms to prevent abuse and compensate victims.

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Spain's parliament voted in March 2022 to open the country's first official investigation by the ombudsman into the extent of sexual abuse committed by priests and church authorities. The government was forced to act after Spanish newspaper El Pais published abuse allegations involving more than 1,200 victims, provoking public outrage. Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez described the new report a "milestone" for Spain's democracy, per the AP. "Today we are a little better as a country," Sánchez said Friday from Brussels, "because a reality has been made known that everyone has known for many years, but which no one spoke of." He said the report and its recommendations would be studied and acted upon.

(More Spain stories.)

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