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Spain's Catholic church backs plan to compensate sex abuse victims

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Spain's Catholic church backs plan to compensate sex abuse victims
Recent estimates suggest up to 400,000 people have been the victims of sexual abuse by members of Spain's Catholic Church over the past decades. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

Spain's Catholic Church on Tuesday said it had approved a plan to compensate victims of child sexual abuse by its clergy and expressed hope it would be operational within months.

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Spain's left-wing government has upped pressure on the Church over clerical abuse which has only recently gained traction in a country once deeply Catholic but now increasingly secular.

The document, which outlines "guidelines for Church action in relation to sexual abuse committed against minors", was approved Tuesday by the CEE Episcopal Conference, which groups Spain's leading bishops, the body said in a statement.

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

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The bishops also backed the creation of a committee to assess each case and decide on the specific level of compensation, which would be "operational as soon as possible, ideally from September", CEE head archbishop Luis Arguello told a news conference.

"This is an important day," he said, indicating the Church was "opening a door to a system of comprehensive reparations", while indicating "the majority of cases involved dated back to before the 1990s".

Asked about cases where dioceses were unable or unwilling to compensate a victim, Jesús Díaz Sariego, who heads Spain's conference of religious orders, said the Church authorities would step in.

"If a case arose where a congregation, or a diocese.. refused to give compensation, the higher Church authority will step in to cover it," he told reporters.

The CEE said in March it had 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 so far to offer any reparations.

Figures published in October in the first-ever official report on child sexual abuse within the Church estimated that more than 400,000 people had suffered sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy and other lay people since 1940.

It proposed a compensation fund be set up - but the Church ruled out taking part if it was only for compensating victims of pastoral abuse, and not those who suffered in any other setting.

Casting doubt on the "dubious reliability" of the reported figures, the CEE pointed to an audit it commissioned which found some 2,056 minors were abused by the clergy.

In April, the government adopted a plan based on the recommendations in the October report which was compiled by independent experts working under the Spanish ombudsman.

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

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