ROME – It’s unusual for the Spanish Bishops Conference to release a statement responding to a direct attack from a politician – notes about contentious issues such as euthanasia or abortion are common, not so referencing policymakers by name. Yet on Friday, they went out of their way to condemn the “rancid anticlericalism” of a government minister.

On Thursday, Ione Belarra, the Spanish Minister of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda, made her debut in the Spanish parliament, on the day in which a new law for the protection of children and adolescents was approved, extending the statute of limitation for sexual crimes against minors.

“It must be said that the Catholic Church has been an accomplice too many times in this country, covering up sexual violence against children,” Belarra said.

The following day, the bishops released a statement dismissing her words as a “gravely unjust the accusation that seeks to sully the activity of millions of people for decades and that does not correspond at all with the truth.”

The prelates also said the work of thousands of lay people, priests and religious “cannot be tarnished” either by the actions of some members of the Church “who are unworthy of that work” or by the assessments of politicians who, “prey to a rancid anticlericalism, use the Church for political confrontation in a strategy of rupture and confrontation.”

“Recent independent studies have indicated that 0.2 percent of the cases [of child abuse] have occurred in religious activities, something that, while serious for us, puts in its magnitude the dimensions of the problem and points out the environments in which abuse mostly occurs, which must have special attention and protection,” the bishops write.

Though they don’t go into the details of the statistics, 80 percent of child sexual abuse take place within the family. According to the World Health Organization, one in five women and 1 in 13 men report having been sexually abused when they were children.

In their statement, the Spanish bishops highlight that with the aim of achieving “zero tolerance” for abuse within the Church, in 2002 they began “a long process of updating its protocols and its code of law, especially in matters of prescription of these crimes and prevention of abuse in the present and in the future, parts of which that now incorporates the Spanish legislation.”

In the past two decades, “protocols and safe environments for minors have been developed in the places where the Church carries out its activity,” and religious congregations have also implemented “an important number of initiatives to attend to minors.” In addition, each diocese has set up offices for the protection of minors and the prevention of abuse.

“Finally, we wish to renew the Church’s commitment to the protection of minors, which will continue to take steps forward, and to thank all those inside and outside the Church who work in the care of minors and in their formation, for a better future,” the bishops say.

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