ROSARIO, Argentina – Through a statement released on Thursday, Opus Dei publicly acknowledged the first sentence issued by the Vatican against one of its priests for sexual abuse.
“The Opus Dei prelature in Spain asks for forgiveness and deeply regrets the suffering caused to the victims,” says the statement. “We ask God to bring comfort and healing to those affected.”
Father Manuel Cociña, 72, was found guilty of molesting one young man, who was 18 when the abuse began in 2002 in Spain. The sentence was issued on June 30, and the priest was given 15 days to appeal. When the time to do so expired – on Wednesday at midnight – the sentence from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith became finalized.
According to the statement released by Opus Dei Spain, the priest was found guilty of “solicitation” — using the confessional to ask for sexual favors — which according to canon 1387 of the Code of Canon Law is to be punished “according to the gravity of the offence.” In the more “serious cases,” the canon says, the priest is to be dismissed from the clerical state.
In Cociña’s case, as the statement from Opus Dei says, he’s been sentenced to five years of suspended ministry – though he will be allowed to say Mass in private. After those first five years, he will be restricted in his ministry for another five years to the center where he lives.
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 with Crux over the weekend and said he wanted Opus Dei to acknowledge the sentence publicly in the hopes that the Catholic Church in Spain “can move forward in abuse prevention and transparency, as has happened in Chile.”
The survivor told Crux over the weekend — before the statement was published — that he had decided to lodge a formal allegation against Cociña after Pope Francis’s visit to Chile. He believes that much has improved in the way the church handles abuse allegations in this Latin American country, that in recent years has seen a myriad of cases that led the pontiff to summon all the Chilean bishops to Rome for a meeting on the crisis.
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,” the victim said regarding his experience in Chile.
The statement from Opus Dei notes that the delegate appointed by Monsignor Fernando Ocariz, head of the prelature, “has maintained contact with the complainant throughout the process,” and that “the Prelature is attending to the medical and psychological expenses of the complainant, through the Archdiocese of Santiago.”
The statement from the personal prelature also acknowledges that “during the investigation and process” against Cociña, two other adults came forward and shared that the priest had also committed “actions canonically reprehensive” with them.
These two accusations are allegedly collected in the 16-page sentence issued against the priest, which the victim has been told he won’t be allowed to see.
The allegations against Cociña were first made public by Religion Digital, a Spanish news outlet, in 2019. Afterwards, Opus Dei released a statement detailing the process: In August 2018, the prelature in Spain had received from Chile an accusation of sexual abuse against Cociña. Within a month, and at the direct order of Ocariz, a preliminary investigation was conducted.
By Oct. 1, 2018, the priest had been restricted in his pastoral ministry, and was banned from speaking to people under 30, and restricted to the center where he resides.
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 clerics.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma