Spain’s Catholic Church Tuesday issued an apology to victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests, while also expressing reservations about the accuracy of a recent survey suggesting that such abuse might be more widespread nationwide than previous investigations indicated.
The survey, included in a report by Spain’s human rights ombudsman and released last Friday, disclosed that 0.6% of just over 8,000 respondents reported having experienced abuse. This percentage rose to 1.1% when accounting for lay individuals, including teachers at Catholic schools.
Following an extraordinary meeting, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference expressed its deep regret for the harm caused by certain Church members through sexual abuse and reiterated its request for forgiveness from the victims.
The Catholic Church has grappled with sexual abuse scandals in various countries, including the United States, Ireland, and France, over the past decades. However, the issue only became a topic of public debate in Spain, where nearly 60% of the population identifies as Catholic, following a significant media investigation in 2021.
The Conference, which the ombudsman criticised for not fully cooperating with the investigation, stated that it lacked knowledge regarding the survey’s methodology and the specific questions posed. Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, the Conference Chairman, pointed out the opacity surrounding the survey, finding it illogical.
The survey’s results imply that over one in 200 Spaniards may have experienced abuse. While this extrapolation might not be entirely precise, the percentages provide insight into the extent of the issue.
In an internal Church investigation published in June, 728 alleged sexual abusers within Spain’s clergy were identified, along with 927 victims since the 1940s. A 2021 report in El Pais newspaper had previously identified over 1,200 alleged cases.
The ombudsman’s report also recommended the establishment of a state fund to compensate victims. Francisco Garcia, the Conference’s secretary general, indicated that the Church would be open to contributing to such a fund.
However, he emphasised that the issue of abuse extended beyond the Church and involved general educational institutions, sports associations, and other entities.