ROSARIO, Argentina – On June 30, Father Manuel Cociña, a Spaniard, became the first priest belonging to the personal prelature of Opus Dei to be found guilty and sentenced by the Vatican of sexual abuse. He has 15 days to appeal, though sources have told Crux he’s not planning on doing so since appeals usually end worse for those found guilty.
Cociña, 72, was found guilty of molesting one young man, who was 18 when the abuse began in 2002. He’s been sentenced to five years of suspended ministry. He’ll have to spend the time in prayer in the residence where he lives, and after that, when he’s allowed back to ministry, he won’t be able to have contact with people under 30.
His victim was an Opus Dei member at the time of the abuse. Today he lives in Chile, is married, and remains a Mass-going Catholic. He spoke first with a Spanish news outlet and then with Crux, not out of “animosity towards the Church, nor the Work,” he said on Wednesday, using the colloquial term for Opus Dei, which is Latin for “Work of God.”
“What I want is for my case to become public so the Catholic Church in Spain, and Opus Dei there, can move forward in abuse prevention and transparency, as has happened in Chile,” said the survivor, who will be called “Lucas” to protect his identity.
“Eight years ago, the Catholic Church in Chile blew up because of the Karadima case,” Lucas said. “Maybe the same can happen here.”
The reference is to Fernando Karadima, the country’s most notorious pedophile priest, who was expelled from the priesthood by Pope Francis after the Vatican sentenced him to a life of penitence and prayer.
When Francis visited Chile in 2018, he accused Karadima survivors – James Hamilton, Juan Carlos Cruz and Jose Andres Murillo – of “calumny” for asserting that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, a protégé of Karadima, had covered up for his mentor.
Three months later, and after sending two top-notch investigators to Chile, the pontiff made a 180 degree turn.
He summoned all of Chile’s bishops to Rome,and they handed in their resignations; he publicly apologized to survivors; and he began purging the Chilean church, with several bishops replaced in less than a year, some removed from the priesthood, and several famous priests expelled for having abused minors.
Lucas, who decided to lodge a formal allegation against Cociña after the pope’s visit, believes much has improved since then. In Santiago, the country’s capital, there’s an office that tends to victims, OPADE, and protects those who make allegations. In his own case, they’ve covered his bills for both legal counsel and a psychologist.
“Everything is support and transparency,” Lucas said regarding his experience in Chile.
In Spain, however, he said he’s struggled. He first spoke to his spiritual director about the abuses almost a decade ago, yet Crux has confirmed that Cociña was transferred several times even after the allegation was made against him.
Cociña worked in high schools, seminaries and was even the rector of the Basilica of San Miguel, run by Opus Dei in Madrid. He was transferred to the basilica in 2002, a date Lucas remembers because it was “after the canonization of Escriva,” meaning, after the founder of Opus Dei was declared a saint earlier that year.
Two years later, Cociña was “quietly transferred” to Galicia, a province in northwestern Spain. Lucas said that move is especially worrying because “it happened after Boston,” meaning after clerical abuse allegations blew up in the United States.
“What enrages me is that this man has been abusing young men for 30 years throughout Spain, and the Work moved him from one place to the other,” Lucas said. “He’s been condemned for my case, because I’m the one who’s formally charged him. But this is not about my case, it’s about his life. And the lives he might have ruined.”
After Lucas made his allegation public in 2019 by speaking with a Spanish journalist, Opus Dei released a statement, acknowledging that in August 2018, the prelature in Spain had received from Chile an accusation of sexual abuse against Cociña.
The statement also said that less than a month later, and at the direct order of Monsignor Fernando Ocariz, the head of Opus Dei, a preliminary investigation was ordered. By Oct. 1, 2018, the priest had been restricted in his pastoral ministry, being banned from talking to people under 30, and restricted to the center where he lives.
By December 2018, the file was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that handles allegations of sexual abuse by priests. It was this office that ruled on June 30 that the priest had been found guilty.
The sentence was communicated to Lucas, but no formal statement has been made. Furthermore, a representative of Opus Dei reportedly told Lucas that no statement should be expected, because his case “wasn’t that big … Cociña is no McCarrick or Karadima,” meaning, ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Washington archbishop found guilty of abuse and removed from the priesthood by Francis.
“I’m very glad with the fact that there’s a sentence, because it means that what happened is finally acknowledged,” Lucas said. “At times, I felt I was crazy, that I was making it up. The sentence is small: Five years suspended and five more years locked in his center. But I haven’t seen the sentence, and I’ve received no institutional call from Opus Dei confirming it.”
“The person who told me was the man appointed by the prelate, who’s a lovely person and who’s been nothing but helpful and forthcoming, but who told me ‘This is canon law, you don’t have a right to the sentence, nor right to know who said what’,” Lucas said.
“The accused and I are not on even footing: I notify the Church of the abuse, and it’s the Church [Opus Dei] that canonically makes the accusation [to the CDF],” he said. “I know there are other accusers in the case against Cociña.”
Lucas has filed no civil complaint because of the statute of limitations.
What he’s been told is that sentence is 16 pages long and that it does, in fact, include other people who were reportedly molested by the priest.
“I’m not going to change canon law,” Lucas said dejectedly. “But what I want is for Opus Dei to release a statement saying ‘this person has been found guilty,’ as they did when the allegation was made.”
“I want a statement to be made, not because I’m obsessed with this story being in the media, but because some people know who I am. There are people in Spain who know I made the allegations, and I want for it to be publicly acknowledged: I didn’t lie, I’m not a crazy man who did this out of hatred of the Work.”
Cociña has 15 days to appeal the sentence, and until he formally decides not to do so, the sentence is not considered definitive. Until then, Opus Dei cannot publicly address the issue.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma