ROSARIO, Argentina – After releasing a report documenting 81 cases of the sexual abuse of minors in Spain, the Jesuit leadership in the country expressed “shame, pain, and regret.”
The report on allegations of abuse made against members of the religious order covered the years 1927-2020, and also included documentation about the sexual abuse of 37 adults in that period.
“We feel shame, pain and regret,” said Jesuit Father Antonio España, the head of the Spanish province of the order.
“We want to learn to apologize to the victims and society for the abuses, for the culture of silence, for not facing the facts fairly,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.
The priest said the presentation of the report was a priority for the order as it tries to “create a safe environment” in all its work. “A fundamental part of this is being accountable for the past,” España said.
The report is the result of a two-year investigation, and uses a broad definition of sexual abuse, from improper language and solicitations, to touching and rape.
According to the Jesuits, “most cases” involved improper touching.
“The lack of systematization of the information that existed has been a difficulty,” said Father José María Rodríguez Olaizola, communication secretary of the Society of Jesus in Spain.
“However, out of honesty with the people who have suffered abuse and the need to clarify the past, we have found it essential to face this investigation.”
The information was collected by going through the archives of the religious order, with information provided by former provincial superiors. There were also listening commissions, testimony from other Jesuits, information found in newspapers, and allegations made confidentially to an email made widely available ahead of the compiling of the report.
In an attempt to prevent new instances of sexual abuse, the Jesuits in Spain have implemented a “safe environment system” in all their institutions, based on three pillars: Awareness, prevention and intervention. The order says they hope to generate “a profound change in culture.”
More than half of the abuse against minors took place in schools run by the Jesuits. The abuse was perpetrated by a total of 96 priests, of whom 71 are deceased, with the rest being expelled or suspended from the order, or banned from contact with minors.
“We want to insist on the need to take the data with caution,” says the report. “We believe that there may be cases of which we are not aware. In the future, others who have suffered abuse might need to step forward, since they have not yet found the strength or the possibility to tell their story.”
“Our objective, in every case, is to seek truth and justice, and contribute, if it is in our hands, to help them heal,” the report says.
According to the report, there have been 8,782 Jesuits in Spain since 1927, the year of the first recorded instance of abuse in the report, until present day. At least 65 of these Jesuits have credible accusations that they abused minors, of whom 14 are accused of abusing more than one child.
Taking into account those who are accused of abusing adults, the Jesuits found that 1.08 percent of those in the Spanish province have been credibly accused of committing sexual abuse.
Though there is no global statistic on the percentage of priests accused of abuse, the number is significantly lower than the one calculated for the United States by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2002 at the request of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The John Jay Report indicated that close to 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,932 priests in the United States between 1950 and 2002, which constituted close to 2.7 percent of all the priests – diocesan and religious – that served in the country during this time.
Thursday’s report extrapolated the data to compare it with the same period. They found that there were 48 abusive Jesuits – representing 1.1 percent of the total – between 1950 and 2002.
The difference in the percentage between this and the U.S. data, the report notes, can either indicate a lesser incidence of abuse in Spain or that there are victims who are still waiting to be able to come forward.
The 24-page report by the Spanish Jesuits includes no names, either of perpetrators or victims. The Jesuits argue that they made this decision, despite many English-speaking countries choosing to release exhaustive lists of abusive priests for three reasons: Many survivors have explicitly asked not to give information that might point towards their identity and that of the abuser; cases that have been tried are of public knowledge; and avoiding the names of the accused priests from being “irreparably damaged without any nuance.”
On the latter point they clarify that there are cases that include a wide range of abuse, and not all are equal: “We do not intend, with this, to minimize the impact of some actions on the lives of other people, but we do try to avoid immediately associating any inappropriate behavior with the most dramatic cases that we have reported. Hence the understanding that all people have the right, even legally protected, to confidential treatment of their data and stories.”
Addressing survivors, the report says that the Jesuits want to above all “insist on our respect and concern for the people who have suffered abuse. All responsibility for what happened belongs to those who, from positions of authority and moral superiority, used this situation to take advantage of someone entrusted to their care. And we regret not having known how to see or react appropriately when some of these cases came to light.”
In the report, signed by the Spanish Jesuits as a whole, they express “unequivocally” their determination to contribute to the fight against “the tragedy of abuse.”
All of society must reconcile with this need, they said, because there’s a culture that has proven inadequate when it comes to protecting those most vulnerable.
“But it is not up to us to demand responsibility from others, but from ourselves,” the Jesuits write. “We have to look at what happened in the face. We should not minimize it, or settle if the data is more or less forceful. They are never tolerable. And they are not figures. They are lives, and they are real stories.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma