Spanish lawmakers approve first probe into child abuse by clergy

Lawmakers on Thursday approved Spain's first official probe into child sex abuse within the Catholic Church by voting for the creation of an expert committee to manage the investigation.

Spanish lawmakers approve first probe into child abuse by clergy
In Spain, no official statistics exist on child sex abuse by the clergy. Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

The text, which provides for the creation of an independent panel to investigate sexual abuse against minors, was voted through by 286 votes in favour in the 350-seat assembly.

Until now, there has never been an official inquiry into alleged abuse by members of the clergy.

Under the proposal, which was drawn up by the ruling Socialist party and the Basque nationalist PNV, the panel will be chaired by Spain’s ombudsman and include experts, representatives of victims’ associations and members of the clergy.

It will be tasked with investigating “the abhorrent actions by individuals against defenceless children… so that both the people who committed these abuses and those who concealed or harboured them can be exposed”, it reads.

The committee will then draw up a report which will be submitted to parliament.

The move was hailed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Twitter, who described it as “a first step to try and address the pain of the victims who have not been heard until now. Thanks to all the groups that have supported this much-needed initiative.”

Historically, Spain has always been a deeply-Catholic 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.

In recent decades, thousands have spoken out about harrowing abuses by clergy across the United States, Europe, Australia and beyond, prompting Church probes in many nations seeking redress for the victims.

But there has been no such investigation in Spain where no official statistics exist on child sex abuse by the clergy.

 ‘Must be done properly’

Given the absence of data, El Pais newspaper began investigating allegations in 2018 and has since received details of 1,246 cases, some dating back to the 1930s.

Until now, the Church has only recognised 220 cases of abuse since 2001, and has ruled out any “comprehensive investigation” into abuse reports, insisting it had abuse protocols in place.

“This investigation must be done properly because it will be the beginning of the end of an outrageous situation,” Socialist lawmaker Carmen Calvo told the paper this week.

READ ALSO: Will Spain finally act on child abuse claims in its Catholic church?

Last month, Spain’s parliament agreed to consider another request to open a parliamentary inquiry, but the proposal was dropped in favour of the Socialists’ plan for an independent expert panel, following a formula used in Australia, France and the Netherlands.

The vote comes several weeks after the Church took a first step towards addressing clerical abuse of children by engaging lawyers to conduct an investigation that will take cues from similar probes in France and Germany.

At the time, Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, head of the CEE Episcopal Conference grouping Spain’s leading bishops, said the Church wanted “to take responsibility.. by creating a new means of cooperation to clarify past events and ensure they don’t happen again”.

The probe will be conducted by Cremades & Calvo Sotelo law firm which said its investigation would take about a year and take cues from the “positive” aspects of a French probe and “the methodology used in Germany”.

The French investigation found that 216,000 minors had been abused by clergy since 1950, but that figure rose to 330,000 when claims against lay members of the Church were taken into account, which includes teachers at Catholic schools.

In Germany, a report published in January by Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) law firm found at least 497 children had been abused in Munich-Freising archdiocese between 1945 and 2019.

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Spain investigates mysterious ‘needle spiking’ attacks on women in nightclubs

Spanish police are investigating a string of cases of women being injected with possibly spiked syringes in crowded clubs, following similar incidents in Britain and France. However, no chemical trace has been found yet in the victims.

Spain investigates mysterious 'needle spiking' attacks on women in nightclubs

The worrying trend of ‘needle spiking’ (pinchazos in Spanish) in bars and nightclubs that has been seen across Europe in recent weeks has reached Spain.

The strange attacks, the first of which reportedly happened in October 2021 in the Scottish city of Dundee, can cause sudden dizziness, memory loss and then, usually the morning after, bruises caused by what experts believe are needle pricks.

In Spain, the first reports of these needle spiking attacks have been in the Basque Country, Catalonia, Andalusia, Aragon and Cantabria.

The Ertzaintza (Basque police) are investigating as many as a dozen neede spikings in bars and restaurants across the northern region in the last two weeks alone, while national police in Andalusia are investigating two women claiming to have been victims of ‘chemical submission’ due to needle spiking in a nightclub in El Puerto de Santa María in Cádiz.

Catalonia and the Basque Country are the regions where the largest number of cases have been reported so far, and the complaints are familiar: young women who feel a prick or sharp pain while dancing or waiting at the bar in a cramped environment, and then feel dizzy and disorientated and have a physical injection mark on their body.

Often the needle pricks are accompanied by memory loss.

Social panic

Worrying though the attacks are, it must be noted that scientists have only detected one case in Spain (in the northern region of Asturias) where the victim’s body was found to have a toxic substance present.

The victim in question was a minor, so it is unclear if they were in a bar or nightclub at the time. The 13-year-old girl reported a sharp pain in her leg, and later tested positive for liquid ecstasy after analysis at the Cabueñes Hospital.

But this seems to be the exception.

Physical needle pricks without any chemical or toxic traces have been the case in almost every other case across Europe.

By January 2022, in Britain there had already been already 1,300 complaints about needle attacks. Of these, zero cases were confirmed with chemical evidence.

In France, of 800 or so reported needle spiking cases, not a single chemical trace was found in any of the victims tests.

In the medical analysis of Spanish victims, according to police sources, no traces of toxic substances have been found besides the single case in Dijon.

Mireia Ventura, head of analysis at Energy Control, said in the Spanish press this week that “we do not deny that there are aggressions with something sharp, but this story that they [the victims] are inoculated drugs with a syringe in nightclubs sounds fanciful to us, there are several pieces that do not fit in.”

Not a single syringe has been found on any premises nor have any culprits been identified.

None of the dozens of recent victims in Spain have tested positive for toxic substances in medical tests, nor have they suffered sexual assault, harassment or theft.

As sociologist Robert Bartholomew wrote in ‘Psychology Today’, “anyone who believes she was drugged while on the go must be taken seriously and her claims thoroughly investigated. However, a recent wave of news involving syringes has all the characteristics of a social panic.”