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BILBAO, Spain – Spain’s bishops announced Friday that they will not take part in an independent commission into clerical sexual abuse created by the national legislature, alleging, among other things, that the commission won’t look into all sexual abuse of minors but only those committed by members of the Catholic Church.
“We want to state that to carry out an investigation of abuses only in the church, when it is clear that out of 15,000 open cases in Spain, only 69 refer to the church, is a surprising decision,” said Bishop Luis Argüello, spokesman of the Spanish bishops’ conference.
Argüello argued that a different investigation opened by the regional government of Catalonia makes more sense since, despite naming the church specifically among the institutions being investigated, it will look into all cases of abuse of minors.
He also said the bishops have informed the national government that the congressional inquiry would be carried out without any institutional presence of the church, even if they will “collaborate with civil authorities” within the framework demanded by Spanish law.
Though he is not formally a part of the Ombudsman’s commission, Argüello called “for collaboration and prudence so as not to exaggerate and not to revictimize the victims.”
In early March, the Spanish congress voted in favor of creating a commission of experts responsible for conducting the first nationwide investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the country.
Just days before the congress voted, the bishops’ conference announced that it would carry out its own investigation into the nation’s historical abuse cases, much like the bishops of the United States, Ireland and France have done, and as the bishops of Portugal are doing.
In the absence of official data, the Spanish newspaper El País had launched its own investigation in 2018, identifying 1,246 victims since the 1930s.
The Cremades law firm will carry out both the church and state investigations. Regarding the opening of the diocesan archives to be consulted, Argüello said the church’s approach “will be carried out taking into account civil and canonical legislation and the law on data protection.”
“There is an overestimation of what can be found in the archives,” Argüello warned, stressing that this comment is rooted on his “personal” view. In the case of the Archdiocese of Valladolid, of which he is auxiliary bishop, the spokesman recalled that in one recent case, “We have had no evidence, either in diocesan documents or in people close to the person denounced.”
Some victims’ associations are wary of the law firm chosen by the bishops to carry out their review, because it is founded and led by a member of Opus Dei. Thus, Argüello appealed to all victims to “use any channel they consider necessary to report” abuse, whether it is the justice system, the media, or the church.
Speaking at a press conference following the general assembly of the Spanish bishops, Argüello explained that the prelates’ turnaround from outright refusing to order an investigation into abuse to calling for an external audit has been motivated by two things: an evaluation of the work being carried out at a diocesan level and the pressure from the media.
Throughout his speech at the press conference, Argüello called on victims and “those who know of cases of abuse” to go to the 70 offices established in dioceses and congregations and that, “if for any reason they do not have confidence” in them, to go to existing associations and NGO that work on these issues. He also suggested survivors take part in the investigation being carried out by the Cremades law firm or the one from the Ombudsman’s office.
When all is said and done, he said, what matters is what society as a whole can do together, without the church “assuming the role of a scapegoat, so that an awareness arises in society that ensures the problem of abuse can be addressed in its full magnitude.”