Spanish Church reels in wake of dozens of child abuse allegations

Pope Francis received copy of report by El País newspaper

Pope Francis was handed the El País findings directly.

Spain's Catholic Church is under pressure to investigate allegations of child sex abuse by its clergy following revelations of a barrage of previously undisclosed cases.

El País newspaper has reported 251 alleged cases of abuse by members of the Catholic Church, from between 1943 and 2018. The newspaper says there were at least 1,237 victims affected.

El País said it handed the findings directly to Pope Francis during a flight on December 2nd. According to the newspaper, the pope "acted fast" on his return from the trip, giving the document to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body charged with investigating abuse claims.

Although cases of abuse have come to light in Spain previously, the numbers have been much lower than in countries such as Ireland, France or the United States and the Spanish church has never carried out a major investigation.


Antonio Carpallo, who is 81, told of how he was abused by a priest in a boarding school run by the Salesian congregation in Seville. He recounted how one of the staff got into bed with him and touched him, while asking if he wanted to go to a football game. "I was a child and an orphan, how was I going to tell him I didn't want to see the game?" said Mr Carpallo.

The vast majority of the cases are from between the 1950s and the 1990s, with around three-quarters of them linked to religious orders. The Salesians, Jesuits and Marists are among those most frequently cited.

The Salesian congregation, whose members were involved in 37 previously undisclosed cases, according to El País, has responded to the allegations by saying it will investigate.

However, the De La Salle Order, which faces 17 new accusations, has refused to open its own inquiry.

The newspaper’s findings were also given to the head of the Spanish Church, Juan José Omella, who is archbishop of Barcelona. He gave the document to an ecclesiastical court, in theory triggering an investigation.

Vulnerable people

In a statement the Spanish Episcopal Conference, which represents the country’s bishops, broadly welcomed bringing to light such cases, saying that this might “help end the scourge of sexual abuse committed against children or vulnerable people in the Church or in society.” However, it went on to warn of a lack of “rigour” in the report, claiming that this “makes it difficult to come to conclusions that could serve a possible investigation.”

The findings of the report are based on hundreds of testimonies gathered over a period of three years. El País said that the names of alleged abusers had been detailed in all but 35 cases.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Episcopal Conference insisted that the Spanish Church would not proceed with an inquiry until it received approval from the Vatican.

Jéssica Albiach, of the Catalan wing of the leftist Podemos party, said she expected the revelations to lead to a deep investigation.

“In Spain we have had years of delay, which is the fault of an Episcopal Conference that is complicit with child abuse, but soon justice will be done,” she wrote on Twitter.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain