Spanish bishops apologize for abuse, dispute media figures

Following the publication of an ombudsman’s report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Spain, the country’s bishops renew their apology to abuse victims, saying some media estimates are not true and affirming that the “shadow of suspicion” should not extend to all clergy and religious.

By Vatican News

On Tuesday, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference (CEE) held a press conference on the Extraordinary Plenary Assembly that took place on 30 October to discuss an official public report released last week on sexual abuse in the Church in Spain.

The “Gabilondo Report”

The report is the result of an investigation conducted by Ombudsman Ángel Gabilondo, and was presented to the Spanish Congress of Deputies on Friday, 27 October.

Included in the report is a survey based on 8,000 phone and online responses. The poll found that 1.13% of the Spanish adults questioned said they were abused as children either by priests or lay leaders of the Church.  

Some Spanish media have extrapolated the figures, saying that if applied to the entire Spanish population this percentage would mean that some 440,000 minors could have been sexually abused by priests, members of a religious order or lay members of the Church in recent decades.

While acknowledging that the Church in Spain has taken steps to address both abuse by priests and cover-ups, the Ombudsman said they were not enough.

Commitment to work for reparation and prevention

During the press conference in Madrid, CEE’s president, Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcellona, together with the secretary general, Bishop Francisco César García Magán, said the 88 bishops attending the assembly on Monday expressed their pain for the harm caused by some members of the Church, and reiterated their request for forgiveness to victims.  

They also reaffirmed their desire to continue working together on the comprehensive reparation of the victims, on supporting them and deepening the path to their protection and, above all, the prevention of abuse.

Figures reported by media “not true”

However, the CEE rejects media interpretations of the official report that put the number of victims involving the Church in the hundreds of thousands.

“This number does not correspond to the truth nor does it represent the group of priests and religious who work loyally and with dedication of their lives at the service of the Kingdom,” read a statement.

Sexual abuse involves all society

Along with the responsibilities of the Church, the Ombudsman’s study presents a general outlook of the problem that goes beyond the Church, showing that sexual abuse of minors is a social problem to which all public institutions and private companies have the duty to respond.

“A single case of abuse is intolerable,” the Spanish bishops stated while expressing their commitment to eradicate sexual abuse not only in the Church but throughout society.

Bishop Francisco César García Magán further clarified at the press conference that “it is unfair and false to extend a shadow of darkness and suspicion to all priests and all consecrated people.”

He recalled that “the vast majority of our priests and religious are working faithfully and selflessly, serving the people of God, both in the parishes and communities, as well as all the people in need in the most remote areas of the country.”

Church-commissioned audit

Earlier this year, the Spanish bishops commissioned a legal firm (the Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo) to conduct an audit on abuse that would cover all known cases and recommend “procedures and good practices” for clergy to follow.

The results are expected to be released in the first half of 2024.