‘No desire for truth’ in Spain’s Catholic church over child sex abuse

Spanish tour guide Fernando Garcia Salmones, 60 years old, poses at his home during an interview for AFP in Madrid on October 18, 2021. Unlike in other countries where child sex scandals have forced the Catholic Church towards accountability, the Spanish church has actively avoided investigating abuses by its clergy to the fury of victims.

In recent decades, thousands have spoken out about harrowing abuses by clergy across the United States, Europe, Australia and beyond, prompting probes in many nations seeking redress for the victims. But why not in Spain?

In France alone, a study commissioned by the French Catholic Church found last month its clergy had abused some 216,000 minors since 1950.

But in Spain, there are no official statistics on child sex abuse.

The Church says it has counted just 220 cases since 2001, and has ruled out “actively” investigating any such allegations.

“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”.

Historically, Spain has always been a deeply-Catholic country, and some 55 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, a religion deeply embedded in the country’s culture.

The Church in Spain has not explained why it is refusing to hold a comprehensive investigation, saying only it has put in place protocols to manage allegations of abuses by its clergy.

No accountability

For García Salmones, memories of abuse still haunt him today.

“I was studying at the Claretian School of Madrid, I was 14 and one day, the priest jumped on me and continued abusing me every day for practically a whole year,” he said.

On one occasion, he was “abused by the priest and another person who came into the room”, leading him to conclude that the school “knew what was happening and protected” his abuser.

He didn’t speak about his ordeal until he was 40 but by then, the crime was too old to be investigated.

The priest he accused of abuse died in 2009 “without any kind of accountability”.

After García Salmones went public in 2018, he said the school moved to prevent any fresh abuses, with a management statement stressing its “zero tolerance” of any such conduct and commitment “to always investigate any inappropriate behaviour by its members”.

But he says the first reaction of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference (CEE) was to dismiss his account as “a bid to seek financial compensation”.

A picture taken in 2014 shows archbishop of Granada and other priests during a mass in a gesture of apology to victims of abuse. Photo: AFP PHOTO/ STRINGER (Photo by AFP)
A picture taken in 2014 shows archbishop of Granada and other priests during a mass in a gesture of apology to victims of abuse.

‘Stonewalling and denial’

The Bishops’ Conference declined an interview with AFP.

In a written response, it said it had put in place “protocols for action where cases of abuse were identified and specific training for people working with young people and children”.

It “was aware of 220 cases that had been investigated since 2001”, and had set up offices for “child protection and abuse prevention” in its 70 dioceses where complaints could be filed.

Such offices could also “help victims” and “investigate, where possible, the circumstances under which (abuses) occurred”.

According to the CEE’s website, its 2010 action protocol outlined steps such as barring anyone accused of abuses from working with children.

In 2019, a committee presented a draft child protection decree, which remains unfinished.

But the Church has ruled out any exhaustive inquiry.

“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”.

‘Damaging human rights’

Jesús Zudaire, who runs a victims’ association in the northern Navarre region and was himself abused, says Spain could “easily” have a similar number of cases to France.

He highlights the power of the Church in Spanish society and its cosy arrangement with the decades-long dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which ended in 1975.

El País newspaper began investigating abuse allegations in 2018 and has since received details of 932 cases.

In not taking a proactive approach, the Church “is damaging human rights” and inflicting further harm on the victims, says campaigner Cuatrecasas, whose 24-year-old son was abused by a teacher at a Catholic school in Bilbao between 2008 and 2010.

The teacher was initially handed 11 years in jail but the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to two years, and as a first offender he spent no time behind bars.

Although the Church follows abuse prevention protocols in line with those laid out by the Vatican, victims’ groups want the Spanish government to step in with legislation to prevent Church cover-ups.

Earlier this year, Spain’s parliament approved a child protection law extending the statute of limitations for abuse cases, meaning survivors can report abuses for up to 15 years after they turn 35.

Previously, the clock started when they were 18.

Although victims wanted the legislation to be retroactive, they hailed the step as a positive first move.

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Why the sexual abuse revelations about Catholic clergy in France were grimly unsurprising

The Catholic Church’s defensiveness and culture of secrecy have made it tragically reluctant to admit error and slow to put in place safeguards.

By Michael Coren

The October revelations concerning sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic clergy in France were cruelly unsurprising. The report, the result of an independent inquiry that began in 2018, exposed how since the 1950s more than 216,000 children had been sexually abused by clergy. There were around 3,000 separate abusers, those who complained about their assault weren’t believed, known abusers were moved rather than charged, and the church hierarchy seemed more intent on denial and obfuscation than protection and justice.

It is a story that we’ve heard from nation after nation, city after city, diocese after diocese. And even the latest papal reaction sounded like devilish déjà vu. Pope Francis said he “felt pain” at what had happened, a banality he’s uttered numerous times as outrages come to light, though sometimes only after public pressure.

At least he acknowledged that the abuse had happened, which is more that can be said about many of his predecessors. Pope John Paul II was especially bad in this regard. It was the Boston sexual abuse scandal reported in 2002 that opened the doors for further investigation, and in that case journalists, activists and survivors had to constantly fight lawyers and bishops in their search for justice. Whatever the Roman Catholic Church might like us to believe, little of its contrition has been voluntary.

In my adopted home of Canada, the Basilian Fathers of Toronto went so far as to appeal a legal settlement awarded to survivors of systemic sexual abuse. Damages worth C$2.57m (£1.5m) were given after the main abuser – William Hodgson Marshall – admitted his numerous crimes over a 38-year career. Rejecting the argument that the payment was too generous, the Ontario Court of Appeal stated: “In rendering the award, the jury was no doubt taking into account the evidence that the Basilians knew Marshall had been abusing boys before he was ever ordained, they allowed Marshall to sexually abuse children for more than three decades as a teacher and religious figure, and they decided to move him to different schools when incidents of abuse were reported instead of preventing further harm.”

Once again, entirely standard, whether it’s Ireland, Canada, the UK, US or pretty much anywhere else the Catholic Church has authority and control. Not, of course, that abuse is confined to one particular religious institution, but it’s the scale and regularity of the Catholic phenomenon that is unique, and the way that even now the Church escapes the sort of condemnation that would surely be applied to a secular institution.

Church leaders may have agreed to put in place long-overdue safeguards and precautions but this is largely window-dressing when the fundamental causes remain so firmly present.

The first of these is enforced celibacy. The Church reveres procreation but has a troubled view of sex. Masturbation, for example, is a sin, and homosexuality an “intrinsically disordered” act “of grave depravity” that is “contrary to natural law”, according to its catechism.

Yet in his 2000 book The Changing Face of the Priesthood, Donald Cozzens estimates that as many as 58 per cent of priests are gay. This is pertinent. Because of the Church’s homophobia, even celibate gay men have to disguise their sexuality, and that cloud of unknowing can shelter not only gay men who are innocent, but also abusive priests who molest children. One of the many tragedies of the ongoing scandal is that Rome, in an attempt to distract from the real problems, has pointed the finger at gay clergy – even though the Church’s own 2011 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice confirmed that there was no connection between homosexuality and paedophilia, which is precisely what every other credible investigation has found. Yet as part of the alleged response to the abuse crisis, Pope Francis had made it more difficult for gay men to enter a seminary than it was under any of his more conservative predecessors.

Complete Article HERE!

French actor breaks silence on child sex abuse within church

At 8 years old, Laurent Martinez was sexually abused by a priest

Author and actor Laurent Martinez gestures as he speaks during an interview with The Associated-Press at “Theo Theater” in Paris, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. French author and actor Laurent Martinez has been sexually abused by a priest. Over forty years later, he has chosen to make his story a theater play to show the devastating consequences and how speaking out can help overcoming the trauma. The play called “Pardon?” is deeply inspired from the Martinez’s own life, describing how he felt devoured from the inside and the difficulties of daily life after being abused.

By SYLVIE CORBET

At the age of eight, Laurent Martinez was sexually abused by a priest. Forty years later, he has chosen to make his story into a play, to show the devastating consequences and how speaking out can help victims heal and rebuild.

The play called “Pardon?” is drawn from the French author and actor’s own life, describing how he felt devoured from the inside by the abuse and struggled with daily life after it.

Despite the shocking revelations, Martinez deplored that “there is no — absolutely no — sense of urgency” within the church.

“They are clearly slammed by the numbers” but “they are just talking, talking, talking,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

For Martinez, now 52, memories of the abuse remain vivid.

The priest who was teaching his catechism classes found pretexts to see the 8-year-old Martinez alone, kissing and touching his genitals, he said. One day, Martinez recalls, the abuser invited him to his apartment and forced the boy to engage in oral sex. Under French law, that would be classified as rape.

Martinez later told his parents, who alerted the diocese, and the priest was moved away. He believes the priest is now dead. Like most victims of sex abuse in the church, particularly before the church abuse scandals of the 2000s, Martinez didn’t seek legal recourse. Now it would be too late because of statutes of limitations.

For decades, Martinez buried the abuse inside him, only speaking about it to his two wives.

“For me, sexual relationships were marked in me as something forbidden. So it’s been very difficult for me to go through it, and I had to find very patient partners,” he said.

The play shows how the abuse affected his emotional and sexual life as an adult, making him sometimes grow aggressive or overreact to everyday worries — but also how it led him to be very protective towards children.

Martinez said he spent 40 years “wearing the mask of someone else” and “seeking to hide something that was like a cancer inside me.”

A few years ago, he felt he needed to speak out because he was fed up with keeping the trauma inside him.

“I thought: I need to do something. It’s not possible to continue like that,” he said.

The play was shown for the first time at the Avignon arts festival in 2019. That is also when he first told his two sons, now 21 and 11, about the abuse. Since then, Martinez’s play has been playing in theaters in Paris and across France and a performance of it was shown on France’s Catholic television network KTO.

“I’ve been in pain for so long, and now I’m an actor so … I’m acting my pain. I’m not in it anymore,” he said.

In recent weeks, Martinez, who lost his faith following the abuse, made a new, decisive step. After much hesitation, he asked the head of the Conference of Bishops of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, whether he could seek Martinez’ forgiveness in the name of his abuser.

“He accepted and it was tremendous emotionally for everybody that night,” Martinez remembers. “I gave my forgiveness to the priest that raped me.”

After that, “I felt really completely free of the whole burden of anger, of the desire of revenge. All the bad feelings I had just had vanished, just because I had forgiven,” he said.

“Little by little the trauma is disappearing,” Martinez added. “What helped more was to be able to forgive the priest.”

The actor had been previously in touch with Moulins-Beaufort, who supported the play and offered to show it to French bishops as part of the church’s efforts to face up to shameful secrets that were long covered up.

The offer is evidence of the Catholic hierarchy’s belated realization that listening to survivors is a fundamental part of the church’s own process of coming to terms with the problem and helping them heal.

Pope Francis came to that realization at a 2019 summit he convened with the heads of all the world’s bishops conferences, which featured wrenching testimonies from victims about abuse and the lifelong trauma it caused. For many bishops, it was the first time they had ever actually listened to a survivor, since so often the church ignored victims or treated them as an enemy out to harm the institution.

Among many recommendations in last week’s report about church abuse in France are measures that would institutionalize ways for church hierarchy to better help and hear victims. The report estimates that at least 2,900-3,200 male clergy members were responsible for sexual abuse of children in France since the 1950s, and accuses the church of a systemic coverup.

Martinez knows that his play is helping other people who suffered similar ordeals, and hopes it encourages them to speak out and seek help.

Some “come to see me and say: ‘Thank you so much, because, you know, this is also my story. And you are the first person I’m telling that to.’”

“The most difficult thing is to say it once,” Martinez stressed. “Then you get the strength to say it again and again and again. And then you’re free, or at least you are on the good path to freedom.”

Complete Article HERE!

Limerick priest compares aspects of the Church to the Taliban

Fr Roy O’Donovan

By Donal O’Regan

A LIMERICK priest has compared the Catholic Church to the Taliban on how they both treat women.

Fr Roy Donovan, parish priest of Caherconlish and Inch St. Laurence, has spoken out following a recent statement from Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy.

It was titled, “Change taking shape as greater lay involvement in the Church emerges”. The bishop also asked for expressions of interest from men over 35 years of age, married or single, interested in taking up roles as permanent deacons.

Fr Donovan said Bishop Leahy’s intention of introducing the male Diaconate into the diocese is a “return to the dark ages”.

“In recent weeks we have learned of the Taliban’s negative attitudes to women in Afghanistan, that of exclusion from education and the public domain.

“In the Catholic Church, women are excluded from the hierarchial (patriarchial) structures – no woman can be ordained a deacon, priest, bishop, cardinal or pope. Women are excluded from leadership, governance and decision making in the Church.

“Women have no vote in the upcoming Bishops’ Synod 2023 on Synodality. The Catholic Church at many levels, like the Taliban, treats women as second-class citizens,” said Fr Donovan, who is originally from Knockarron, Emly and served for many years in Dublin.

In his statement, Bishop Leahy said deacons had a ministry in the early Church which focused on service, both within the church community helping in the administration of the diocese and in reaching out to the marginalised in society.

Fr Donovan said up until the 12th century, the Catholic Church ordained women deacons, although by then their service was mostly restricted to women’s monasteries.

“Some Orthodox churches that split from the Catholic Church in the 11th century still do. In the New Testament Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul introduces Phoebe as a ‘deacon of the church at Cenchreae’.

“He also names Priscilla and Junia and several other women leaders,” said Fr Donovan, who is one of the leaders of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) but is speaking in a personal capacity.

The priest said this move towards male deacons “raises questions about how women in the Limerick Synod have allowed this to go forward or have they?”

“It also raises questions about having a meaningful Synod in the Irish Church. Men in every diocese in Ireland and throughout the world should join in solidarity with women and refuse the male Diaconate,” concluded Fr Donovan.

Complete Article HERE!

Historic gathering with bland agenda unlikely to stem decay in the Catholic Church

The number of Catholics in Australia is in decline.

By Paul Collins

Like it or not, Catholicism is still enormously influential in Australia. It is Australia’s largest non-government employer through its schools, hospitals and aged care with around 230,000 people working directly for the church. It also runs many voluntary organisations, like the Saint Vincent de Paul Society with some 20,700 members and 41,150 volunteers with a huge impact on social welfare.

Despite this, Catholicism’s reputation has been effectively trashed in the media and wider community by the sexual abuse crisis and church leaders’ appalling, long-term failure to deal decisively with clerical abusers. The revelations of the royal commission reinforced the church’s toxic reputation.

The result: people are abandoning Catholicism in droves. The percentage of self-confessed Catholics in the population has dropped from 27 per cent in 2001 to 22.6 per cent in the 2016 census. Of the 5.3 million Catholics in 2106, only 11.8 per cent attended Mass regularly.

In an attempt to respond, Australia’s 46 bishops are gathering with 99 invited priests, 25 religious sisters and around 110 laypeople from across Australia in a Plenary Council in early October to try to sort out the church’s future.

To prepare for the plenary, a nationwide consultation was held with Australian Catholics. The response was enormous: more than 222,000 people participated, with 17,457 written submissions from groups and individuals. Issues emerging from the consultation focused around clerical control, lack of leadership, accountability, marginalisation of laypeople in decision making, election of bishops, gender and sexual issues, ministry, especially that of women, married priests, the church’s role in a secular culture and relationships with the wider community.

But that’s where democracy and consultation ended. The plenary organisers watered down these issues into a 69-page, bland, cautious document lacking any sense of crisis, written by an archbishop, a priest and two laypeople, entitled Continuing the Journey.

A victim of historic sex abuse by a WA priest has been awarded a massive payout.

This document constitutes the agenda for the plenary. It doesn’t reflect community concerns and the hard questions expressed in the consultations, but replaces them with generic, vague and frustratingly generalised concerns like “prayer”, “conversion”, “formation”, “structures”, “institutions”, and “governance”. This rhetoric doesn’t encourage discussion of the practical and hard questions that the church faces and understandably many committed Catholics have already lost faith in the plenary process.

The plenary’s first session meets next Sunday. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it will employ a “multi-modal” format, combining in-person and online engagement. A second session will meet in October 2022. Bishops alone will have a deliberative vote. It will be their conclusions that go to the Vatican for approval and given the snail’s pace of Rome, it’ll be 2024 before anything practical begins.

Australia is an object lesson in what not to do when planning church renewal. Don’t go the way that gets you caught-up in a morass of church law and hands over all decision-making power to bishops, not all of whom, it is clear, are really committed to the plenary process, let alone to reforming the church. The fundamental mistake was using a church law-regulated plenary process as the way of confronting Catholicism’s woes. The suspicion is that the bishops chose this precisely because it was tightly controlled by law, allowing them to manage it.

It would have been much better to have had a less-structured national assembly, where a variety of views could be expressed freely, and indicative votes could show what the local Catholic community wanted, leading to concrete actions. While Catholicism remains very influential in Australia through its ministries, the number of active Catholics continues to shrink and the church is increasingly a hollowed-out institution. It’s unlikely that the Plenary Council will do much to halt that decay.

That is unless the bishops put aside their clerical habits and let the faithful in the pews have a much greater say.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!