FOCUS: Will Spain finally act on child abuse claims in its Catholic church?

The Spanish Parliament on Tuesday took its very first step towards an investigation into child sex abuse within the country's church, although so far they’ve only agreed to consider opening an inquiry. Will Spain go all the way and punish those found guilty?

Priests in Granada cathedral repent during a mass in 2014, as a gesture of apology to victims of abuse. Photo: PHOTO/ STRINGER
Priests in Granada cathedral repent during a mass in 2014, as a gesture of apology to victims of abuse by the clergy. Photo: PHOTO/ STRINGER

Until now, there has never been an official investigation into alleged abuse by members of the clergy, not by Spain’s government nor by the Spanish church itself.

In 2018, El País newspaper began investigating abuse allegations and received details of 1,246 cases.

The Church in Spain, which has only recognised 220 cases over the past 20 years, has never held a comprehensive investigation, saying it has protocols in place to manage abuse allegations.

But the situation appears to be changing in this historically religious country, where some 55 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic and where 1.5 million children study in some 2,500 Catholic schools.

On Tuesday, Spain’s parliament agreed to consider opening an inquiry following a petition by Podemos, the hard-left partner in Spain’s left-wing coalition, and two pro-independence parties, the Catalan ERC and the Basque EH Bildu.

For such a commission to be set up, it will have to be voted through a plenary session by a simple majority of lawmakers. No date has yet been set.

PM ‘not saying no’

Although Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party has backed the idea in principle, it hasn´t said if it would prefer an investigation by a parliamentary commission or by an independent expert committee, as seen in Australia and the Netherlands.

“We are completely dedicated to studying all possible formulas for doing this in the best possible way, that allows the facts to be clarified, to address the victims’ pain and above all to prevent this from happening again,” government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez said on Tuesday.

“We’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it well,” she added.

“We’re not saying no,” Sánchez said last week while offering public support to Catalan writer Alejandro Palomas, who had admitted being abused as an eight-year-old by a priest in the mid-1970s.

“Thank you for your courage in sharing your moving testimony,” Sánchez tweeted.

“I assure you that your courage, and that of many others who have taken this step, will help us to address all the pain of all victims.”

Although the centre-right Ciudadanos party is in favour of an inquiry, the right-wing opposition Popular Party is opposed unless the initiative is broadened to look at “all institutions” within Spain.

The far-right Vox, Spain’s third-largest parliamentary force, is totally opposed to any such probe.

‘Has to be independent of state’

Fernando García Salmones, who was abused as a teenager and belongs to victims’ group Infancia Robada, said opening an inquiry “is a good option”.

“I just wish (all the parties) would agree to do something properly,” Salmones told AFP.

A petition launched at the weekend by abuse victim Miguel Angel Hurtado calling for an independent expert inquiry had gathered more than 55,000 signatures by Tuesday.

“What a parliamentary commission can do in the short term is to take emergency measures to fight against institutional paedophilia,” Hurtado told RNE radio. “An expert-led truth commission would allow for a complete quantification of the problem.”

“Spanish civil society will not accept a compromise between the government and the Episcopal Conference,” a grouping of Spain’s leading bishops, he told RTVE public television.

“Any investigation has to be independent of the state.”

Until now the Episcopal Conference, known as CEE, has ruled out any exhaustive inquiry, insisting last year it was “not going to proactively engage in a comprehensive investigation of the matter”.

“We are not going to proactively engage in a comprehensive investigation of the matter,” Monsignor Luis Arguello, the CEE’s secretary general said in September.

The Church “gives the appearance of doing something but it’s not,” says Juan Cuatrecasas, head of victims’ association Infancia Robada, or ‘stolen childhood’ in English.

“It is doing its homework very quickly and very badly,” he says, pointing to a bigger picture of “stonewalling and denial”.

Spanish tour guide Fernando García Salmones, 60 years old, was abused as a teenager at a school run by Roman Catholic priests in Madrid. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Within the Spanish church, the investigation procedure is different, with each diocese carrying out its own smaller, individual probes rather having an overarching inquiry, the CEE said.

It said it had put protocols in place where abuse cases were identified, as well as training for those working with youngsters and children.

In December, the Vatican opened an internal investigation after El País passed on a dossier containing 251 cases of alleged abuse between 1948 and 2018.

According to El País, the Vatican will supervise the CEE’s investigation of these cases, although AFP was unable to independently confirm this.

In another sign the state is moving towards accountability, the public prosecutor’s office has begun compiling details of ongoing criminal proceedings against clergy to get a more accurate picture of the situation.

“The case of the Church in Spain is… shameful,” says Fernando García Salmones, who was abused as a teenager at a school run by Roman Catholic priests in Madrid.

“They have no desire to know the truth,” the 60-year-old tour guide told AFP, saying the abuse destroyed his life and left him feeling “dirty”, “guilty” and “like a piece of shit”.

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KEY POINTS: What changes in Spain in July 2022?

July sees the start of the summer holidays in Spain and brings with it new crisis handouts, VAT cuts on energy bills, travel chaos and a possible deal on UK driving licences. Join The Local Spain as a member to find out about this and plenty more.

KEY POINTS: What changes in Spain in July 2022?

€200 crisis payment available in July 

As part of their new draft of measures to help those struggling with the rising cost of living, the Spanish government announced they would give a one-off €200 handout to the most vulnerable individuals.

The payment plan is set to be activated this month and you can find out who is eligible and how to apply for it here.

According to Spain’s Tax Minister María Jesús Montero, approximately 2.7 million people in Spain will be able to benefit from the scheme. Individuals can request the €200 payment, as can families, but only one payment per household is allowed.

VAT on electricity bills cut by half 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez recently announced that the government would apply a further reduction in VAT on electricity bills, which has now been approved by the cabinet. This means that a VAT reduction, from 10 to five percent, will be applied to electricity bills from July onwards.  

Find out how much you could save on your electricity bill with the new VAT discount here

Travel chaos continues

In the lead-up to the summer holidays, there has been travel chaos across Europe, including in Spain, due to flight cancellations, staff shortages and strikes. Unfortunately, the travel misery is only set to continue into July as several Spain-based cabin crew, including those from easyJet, Ryanair and Lufthansa have announced strikes.

EasyJet staff are scheduled to go on a nine-day strike on July 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 15th, 16th, 17th, 29th, 30th and 31st. Meanwhile, the Ryanair strike, which started on June 24th will continue on July 1st and 2nd. Over 54 flights have already been cancelled by the low-cost airline and more than 300 have been delayed.

German carrier Lufthansa and its budget airline brand, Eurowings are also planning to cancel more than 3,000 flights this summer due to both staff shortages and strikes. This is expected to affect flights from the hubs of Frankfurt and Munich to Spain, among others. 

Could there finally be a deal on UK driving licences?

The British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott recently shared his latest update on the driving licence negotiations between the UK and Spain, indicating a possible agreement to have affected drivers back on the road by the end of July 2022.

“The UK and Spain are now in agreement on the core issues that have been problematic and we’re now very close to finalising the actual text of the agreement,” he explained.

This will be a great relief for many British residents in Spain who were unable to exchange their licence for a Spanish one and haven’t been allowed on the roads since May 1st 2022.

Scorching weather returns to Spain in July

After a brief respite from the mid-June heatwaves, the hot weather is set to return in July. According to the weather site Meteored, the first week of July will see storms and unpredictable weather in the north of the country, while temperatures could reach over 40°C in the south of the country around Córdoba and Seville.

The middle of the month from July 11th to 17th is set to see temperatures rise again. It’s likely that much of Extremadura and Andalusia will experience temperatures around 40°C, while it could also reach 38°C in Bilbao and Madrid.

The last two weeks of July will get even hotter with Meteored predicting the hottest temperatures of the whole year. Temperatures are expected to be above normal in all regions apart from along the Cantabrian coast and in the Canary Islands.

Summer sales go into full throttle

July 1st sees the official start of the summer sales throughout much of Spain, although many stores have started even earlier. With rising costs due to inflation, this is the time of year to benefit from some of the biggest discounts.

Amazon has two days scheduled for its sales from July 12th-13th, while H&M and all the retail stores belonging to Spanish clothing giant Inditex (Zara, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Pull & Bear and Stradivarius) are also due to have their sales this month.

After the start of the sales, you’ll see signs for “segundas rebajas” (second sales), then “terceras rebajas” and finally “remate final” (final push), where discounts progressively go from 30 percent to 40, then 50 and finally down to an incredible 70 percent price reduction. 

Imserso holiday scheme for pensioners kicks off 

Imserso is a social scheme offering holidays to the elderly, which aim to offer subsidised trips to pensioners. Applications for the vacation scheme this year are open from June 27th to July 19th and usually run during the low season from October. Find out how to apply here.

Depending on the dates you go and the type of accommodation you stay in, you will usually have to pay between €115 and €405 for the trip.

Vehicles in Spain need to have Intelligent Speed Assistance

New cars sold in Spain and across the EU must have automatic Intelligent Speed Assistance technology from July 6th as part of the General Safety Regulation.

All newly launched models will need to have Intelligent Speed Assistance systems installed as standard. The idea is to limit speeds and warn drivers to slow down if they’re over the legal speed limit.

Festivals in Spain in July

July sees a whole host of festivals and celebrations across the country. Most famous are the San Fermín Running of the Bulls, held in Pamplona from July 6th – 14th and the Fiestas de Santiago Apóstol, held in the Galician city on July 25th.

Other festivities taking place in July include Bilbao’s BBK music festival from the 7th to the 9th and the Moors and Christians parades in Villajoyosa from the 23rd to 24th, commemorating the battle of 1538.

Pride celebrations are also set to return in July. Madrid’s LGBTIQ+ festival will take place from July 1st to 10th throughout many areas of the city but concentrated around Chueca.

New law to improve rights of domestic workers

A new law could be approved this month to improve the rights of domestic workers so that they have the same rights as other workers, such as the right to unemployment benefits and proper wages.

A third of the 536,100 domestics (mostly women) who work in Spain are not signed up to Spain’s social security system, according to the country’s Labour Force Survey. Two out of every three have earnings around the minimum wage bracket.

Early last year the Spanish government sent out letters to Spanish households who employ workers to warn them of their obligations.