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Spain socialists call for probe into Church child abuse

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Joaquin Benitez, Spanish former gymnastics teacher accused of child abuse charges in a Catholic school in northern Spain, attends his trial at a court in Barcelona on March 25, 2019. AFP

Spain socialists call for probe into Church child abuse

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist party on February 7 asked parliament to set up an expert committee to investigate child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.

Until now, there has never been an official investigation into alleged abuse by members of the clergy, either by the government in Madrid or by the Spanish church itself.

The committee – made up of “experts, representatives of victims’ associations, clergy and public officials” – would compile “the most comprehensive” study of the issue, party spokesman Hector Gomez told reporters.

The panel would report to the state ombudsman.

The aim was to “address an issue which we can no longer afford to ignore . . . while also demonstrating maximum empathy and fairness to the victims,” said Socialist lawmaker Carmen Calvo.

With a total absence of official figures on child sex abuse within the Spanish church, El Pais newspaper began investigating allegations in 2018 and has since received details of 1,246 cases, some dating back to the 1930s.

The Church, which has ruled out any exhaustive investigation and says it has implemented abuse protocols and set up local offices for complaints, has only recognised 220 cases over the past 20 years.

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.

The government will contact “the Catholic Church to ask for its cooperation” with the committee given that “in other countries, it has been the Church itself that has taken the initiative, as in France”, said Calvo who until last year was one of Sanchez’s deputies.

Last week, Spain’s parliament agreed to consider another request to open an inquiry into such abuses at the request of Podemos, the hard-left partner in Sanchez’s left-wing coalition, and two other parties.

At the time, the Socialists said they would not block the idea, but appeared to be more interested in the idea of creating an independent expert committee, as happened in Australia and the Netherlands.

Gomez said he was optimistic the Socialist proposal would be backed by Podemos and the other parties and would be able to begin operating “as soon as possible”.

Only one of the two proposals will go ahead, and to move forward, will need to be voted through a plenary session by a simple majority of lawmakers. No date has yet been set for any such vote.

The political impetus for an investigation came after Catalan writer Alejandro Palomas went public for the first time about being abused when he was eight by a priest at his school.

In an unusual step, Sanchez reached out to him on Twitter and met with him last week.

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