Spain’s attorney general has asked prosecutors to start investigating Catholic leadership for allegedly covering up cases of sexual abuse of minors, according to an annual report published on Thursday.
The attorney general said that cases may broaden to consider the role of superiors like bishops, cardinals, or other high-ups in the church, which may also constitute criminal behavior.
So far, no bishops or members of church leadership have been criminally charged for their alleged role in enabling sexual abuse. However, Spanish daily El Pais has identified 75 of them who are accused of silencing victims or covering up crimes.
In Spain, by the end of 2022, there were at least 147 open investigations into specific cases of pedophilia at the hands of Catholic clergy. For the first time, the annual report includes a section focusing on specific actions taken to bring members of the Catholic Church to justice.
“The State Attorney General’s Office has taken up a commitment to offer a response to the victims and the grave crimes committed against them… given their social transcendence and the number of especially vulnerable people affected by them,” the report said.
However, the state lawyers say that they have “very partial” data for the time being about the different cases. That is because organizing these crimes is relatively new in Spain and because many of them did not reach the ordinary justice system, and were instead investigated within the church.
Of the 20 cases that made their way through Spain’s justice system, 19 of them resulted in criminal sentences.
El Pais, which began the first count of sexual abuse cases, has identified more than 1,000 clergy members accused of abusing nearly 2,200 children.
However, many of the cases cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations. Before a new law was passed, most victims could only denounce childhood abuse until they were 33 years old. Under the new legislation, serious crimes can still be reported by people who are as old as 50.
The Spanish ombudsman is currently conducting a separate probe into the extent of sexual abuse in Spain. Last September, he said he had not “noticed a lot of enthusiasm” from parts of the Catholic Church around the investigation.
In February, Spain’s attorney general again urged the Catholic leadership to stop withholding data on suspected cases of abuse.