Spanish Bishops ask lawyers to review their sex abuse records

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Madrid-based law firm to conduct year-long inquiry into past, present and future sexual abuse by Spain’s Roman Catholic clergy members, religious orders members and teachers, according to the law firm and the head the country’s bishops conference.

This public announcement was a departure from previous Spanish Episcopal Conference positions, which had for many years opposed the idea of taking an exhaustive approach to investigating sex-related abuse.

The conference’s president, Cardinal Juan Jose Omella said that the inquiry by law firm Cremades & Calvo Sotelo was designed to help victims and establish new channels for collaboration and denunciation. This is in addition to the 40 existing offices of the Church. “

According to Javier Cremades (the law firm founder), the inquiry covers all types of abuse and does not limit itself to cases within a specific time frame.

Cremades stated that he was a faithful Catholic and felt overwhelmed by the task. He also said that he was convinced that the Church should go to the bottom and investigate the situation, ask for pardon if necessary, and correct any mistakes. “

He stated that his firm would act pro bono and only ask for the Episcopal Conference’s financial support to cover logistical expenses or fees of outside advisors.

While some bishops and religious order have stated they are open to an investigation, the Spanish Episcopal Conference has previously rejected a thorough investigation and encouraged victims to report their claims to diocesan offices.

Omella answered questions from The Associated Press regarding the new approach. She said that it was the result of internal reflection and internal discussion. “It’s difficult to make a quick decision.” “

Omella and Cremades presented the investigation by Omella as an external audit. Cremades stated that he would like to coordinate with Spanish authorities who are looking into an investigation of their own.

Spanish legislators are expected to vote on March 1st on the terms for a parliamentary inquiry into the extent of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The lawyer stated that “This isn’t an alternative but likely a complement to their work, but in a professional organized, certified manner, so that nobody can doubt that it could have been a manipulation of the Church, by powers that be, or by any other party.”

Omella & Cremades deferred any questions regarding whether or not bishops would testify before the Spanish parliament.

“What is important is not to look at the past, which is typically Spanish, but to see the future.” The cardinal stated that what is most important to him is that he is opening up a new era. He wants to assist, guide, and clear everything. “

Many survivors of sexual abuse were reluctant to hear the news, and described the inquiry’s design as misguided.

Fernando Garcia Salmones – a spokesperson for Robbed Childhood Association – called the audit “maneuver of deter attention” as the Church would dictate terms to the law company. Cremades, who has claimed to be a lay member in the ultra-conservative Opus Dei Catholic Order, was also accused of denying the process legitimacy.

“Would it be possible to request a study on the mafia’s crimes for the Corleone family?” Garcia Salmones is one of a few victims who received compensation from a religious organization in Spain.

“They only care about their business,” he said, referring to the numerous properties and Catholic schools managed in Spain by the Catholic Church. “

The pressure on the bishops to act is growing as more victims come forward with accounts of abuse. Spanish media also reveal how the hierarchy of the church dismissed many of these allegations, ignored victims, and obstructed investigations. They often moved such priests to new overseas missions, where they could continue their abuses.

El Pais, the country’s most renowned newspaper, has reported more than 600 cases that involved twice as many victims. Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s office revealed that 68 cases were under investigation for abuse in religious organizations, not just Catholic.

Pope Francis assumed the papacy in 2013 and has worked to raise awareness about clergy abuse. He has passed laws that hold the hierarchy responsible for it.

The German Catholic Church commissioned a law company to investigate the allegations against Benedict XVI. However, victims don’t always get the results they want. A report on abuse in Cologne in 2021 was rejected by the archbishop. He then commissioned another law agency to create a second report which cleared him.

Very few countries have had parliamentary or government-initiated inquiries into abuses like the one left-wing lawmakers support in the Spanish parliament.

A large-scale investigation was conducted in Australia, where 7% of Catholic priests were charged with abusing minors in the period 1980-2010. In Ireland, a series of judge-led investigations helped to dismantle Catholic Church’s once-dominant position in Irish politics and society.

In France An independent inquiry found that around 330,000 children were victims to sexual abuse by Catholic clergy from 1950 to 2020.

The Italian bishops conference has been under pressure to agree to an inquest. However, there has not been any movement to approve an inquiry.