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Spain pushes Catholic Church to compensate abuse victims

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Spain pushes Catholic Church to compensate abuse victims
More than 400,000 minors had reportedly been sexually abused in Spain by Roman Catholic clergy since 1940. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

Spain's left-wing government on Tuesday upped the pressure on the Catholic Church to compensate victims of sexual abuse committed on its watch.

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Unlike in other nations, clerical abuse allegations have only recently started to gain traction in Spain, once a deeply Catholic country which has become increasingly secular.

Six months ago, a first-ever official report estimated that more than 400,000 people had suffered sexual abuse by the clergy and other lay people, proposing a compensation fund be set up -- but the Church declined to participate.

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"I don't think anyone would understand if the Spanish Church did not proceed as others did in countries like Ireland, France, Belgium or the United States," said Justice Minister Felix Bolanos, referring to nations where the Church had compensated victims.

The government, he said, had "initiated such conversations with the Catholic Church so that it would meet the cost of compensating the victims of sexual abuse committed within its ambit".

Bolanos outlined details of a plan adopted by ministers at Tuesday's weekly cabinet which includes recommendations laid out in an October report by a commission of independent experts working under the Spanish ombudsman.

This included the creation of a state compensation fund for victims - an idea backed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

"We would like to work with the Catholic Church," Bolaños said, stressing that the Church had "for decades failed to offer an adequate response.

READ ALSO: How Catholic are Spaniards nowadays?

Spain's Catholic Church has ruled out taking part in such a fund if was only for compensating victims of ecclesiastical abuse, and not to abuse victims in any setting.

"The Church cannot accept a plan that discriminates against the majority of victims of sexual abuse," the CEE Episcopal Conference, which groups Spain's leading bishops, said Tuesday.

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The CEE had in March approved its own "comprehensive compensation plan" for victims but did not give details about how or when it would be implemented, nor did it give figures.

Victims groups have denounced the Church's opacity and its failure to offer any reparations.

The ombudsman's report said more than 200,000 minors had been sexually abused in Spain by Roman Catholic clergy since 1940.

READ ALSO: Spain's Catholic bishops apologise after report of 200,000 abused

That figure rose to more than 400,000 when abuse by associated Church figures, known as lay members, was included -- equal to 1.13 percent of Spain's adult population of 39 million.

The CEE expressed doubt about the "dubious reliability" of the figures, pointing to an audit it commissioned from law firm Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo which found some 2,056 minors were abused by the clergy.

A few days after the audit was released, the CEE published its own report which was nearly 1,000 pages long, with figures which were even lower.

In its latest update on March 2, it said it had counted 1,057 "registered cases" of sexual abuse, of which only 358 had been "proven" or were "plausible" while another 60 were under investigation.

READ ALSO: Spanish Catholic Church suspends priest accused of selling Viagra

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