Spain’s ombudsman reports little ‘enthusiasm’ from Church in abuse inquiry

There is little “enthusiasm” within Spain’s Catholic Church for the ongoing investigation into child sexual abuse by its clergy, the country’s ombudsman, who is leading the probe, said on Tuesday.

A woman stands before a statue of the Virgin Mary at Our Lady of Covadonga Parish in Madrid. In March, the Church said it had discovered more than 500 cases of child sex abuse in Spain through a complaints procedure launched in 2020.(Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Set up by Spain’s parliament, the independent commission has since July been looking into allegations of the abuse of minors within the Church.

The panel, which is made up of 20 people — mostly experts but no representatives of the Church — has so far heard from 230 victims.

“I have not noticed great enthusiasm within many circles of the Church” for this investigation, ombudsman Angel Gabilondo told a forum.

He said he had been speaking to the Episcopal Conference, which groups the country’s leading bishops, “from the start” and had encouraged them to become part of the investigatory commission.

But they said “there were things that made it difficult for them to participate in the group” but that they “would cooperate” with its work, he said.

The initial idea was that members of the clergy would be on the committee, but the Spanish Church said it would not directly participate although it would cooperate with the authorities.

It has said the commission should be looking into all cases involving the abuse of minors within Spanish society and not just within the Catholic Church.

Unlike in many other nations where the government or the Church itself has opened an investigation into such abuses, Spain has only recently made moves to follow suit.

The independent commission will submit its findings to parliament when it has completed its investigation.

There is no deadline for completing the report.

Long accused by victims of stonewalling and denial, the Spanish Church in February tasked a private law firm with an “audit” into past and present sexual abuse by the clergy, teachers and others associated with the Church.

With no official statistics on child sex abuse within the Church, El Pais newspaper began investigating allegations in 2018.

It has so far counted nearly 1,600 victims.

In March, the Church said it had discovered more than 500 cases of child sex abuse in Spain through a complaints procedure launched in 2020.

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‘Only yes means yes’: Spain edges closer to passing new sexual consent law

Spain’s Senate on Tuesday backed a bill toughening the country's rape laws by requiring explicit consent for sex acts, a reform the government promised following a gang rape that sparked widespread outrage.

'Only yes means yes': Spain edges closer to passing new sexual consent law

It calls for Spain’s criminal code to be reformed to define rape as sex without clear consent. Crucially, that removes the need for rape victims to prove that they resisted or were subject to violence or intimidation.

“Consent is recognised only when a person has freely demonstrated it through actions which, in the context of the circumstances of the case, clearly express the person’s will,” says the bill.

The proposed reform comes after of a notorious 2016 gang rape of an 18-year-old woman by five men at the bull-running festival in Pamplona, northern Spain.

The men — who called themselves the “wolf pack” – were initially convicted of “sexual abuse” and not rape. That lesser offence will disappear from the criminal code if the bill becomes law.

Two of the men filmed the assault, during which the woman is shown silent and passive — a fact the judges interpreted as consent.

That ruling, which highlighted how under Spain’s criminal code rape had to involve violence or intimidation, led to huge protests across the country to demand reform.

In 2019, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict, convicting all five of rape and increasing their sentences from nine years to 15 years each.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez — a self-described feminist — vowed to introduce a law on consent aimed at removing ambiguity in rape cases when he took office in June 2018.

“We don’t want any more ‘wolf packs’, neither for us, nor for our daughters,” Donelia Roldan Martinez, a senator with the Socialist party, told the Senate before it approved the bill.

The lower house of parliament adopted the text in a first reading in May.

But the bill — dubbed the “Only yes is yes” law — still has to go back to Spain’s lower house of parliament after the Senate unexpectedly backed an amendment.