National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 21, 2004

Sexual abuse by priests in the spotlight in Spain


A new movie by controversial Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, plus a series of recent criminal convictions, have thrown a spotlight on sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Spain, according to a May 10 feature by the leading Spanish daily El País.

Since the sexual abuse crisis in the United States broke in January 2002, some commentators have labeled the phenomenon an “American problem.” By way of contrast, the El País report indicates that overwhelmingly Catholic Spain is struggling with strikingly similar revelations.

The lengthy two-page story appeared in an English-language supplement culled from El País and distributed with the Spanish edition of the International Herald Tribune.

In recent months, El País reported, a priest in the Spanish town of Jaen, Luis José Beltrán Calvo, was sentenced to eight months in prison for repeated sexual abuse of a boy that began when the boy was 11 and lasted until he was 14. In Pontevedra, another priest, Edelmiro Rial, was sentenced to 15 years on 10 counts of sexual abuse and two attempts of abuse involving six adolescents. In Barcelona, Ramón López Sánchez received 28 years for abusing three minors, and in Madrid, José Luis Martín de la Peña was sentenced to 10 years for the repeated abuse of his housekeeper’s daughter, which began when the girl was three years old.

While El País reported that reliable estimates as to the size and scope of the problem are difficult to obtain, it cited one 10-year-old study by Félix López Sánchez, a professor of sexual psychology at the University of Salamanca. Based on a survey of 2,000 people, the majority of whom had been to colleges and homes run by religious organizations, Sánchez’s survey found that 15 percent of Spanish males reported having experienced at least one act of sexual abuse prior to age 17. Nine percent of those cases, the report concluded, involved priests.

Only one percent of acts of abuse against women, the study found, had been committed by religious women.

A new film on the subject by the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, called “Bad Education,” opens this week at the Cannes Film Festival. It deals with sexual abuse by Catholic priests during the Franco years in Spain.

El País said the Spanish bishops declined to cooperate in the preparation of its report.

“A great many people from different quarters are calling for the church to overcome its phobias, to end the policy of secrecy and its contradictory doctrine regarding sexual matters, and face up to the problem,” the El País article concluded.

“It must cease to be seen as a club that protects its members, they say. It cannot hide away any longer, hoping the problem will disappear.

National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 2004

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