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CRIME

Panel begins probing child abuse within Spain’s Catholic Church

An independent commission that is to conduct Spain's first official probe into suspected sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church met for the first time on Tuesday.

SPAIN-ABUSE-CHURCH
With no official statistics on child sex abuse within the Church, Spain's El País newspaper began investigating allegations in 2018.(Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Unlike in many other nations where the government or the Church itself has opened an investigation into such abuses, Spain has only recently made moves to follow suit with lawmakers in March backing the creation of an independent commission.

The independent panel is made up of 20 people, mostly experts, but does not include representatives of the Church.

Spain’s ombudsman, Angel Gabilondo, who is in charge of the probe, on Tuesday “presided over the first constitutive meeting” of the commission, his office said in a statement.

The aim is to “prepare a report on sexual violence within the Catholic Church and the role of the public authorities”, it said, indicating that the panel included 17 experts “with experience in victimology, in the care of victims and legal knowledge”.

There is no deadline for completion of the report.

The initial idea was that members of the clergy would be on the committee but Spain’s Catholic Church said it would not directly participate although it would “collaborate with the authorities, providing all available information about the cases under investigation”.

It believes the commission should be looking into cases involving the abuse of minors within all of Spanish society and not just the Catholic Church.

Long accused by victims of stonewalling and denial, the Spanish Church in February tasked a private law firm with an “audit” into past and present sexual abuse by the clergy, teachers and others associated with the Church.

With no official statistics on child sex abuse within the Church, Spain’s El País newspaper began investigating allegations in 2018.

It has so far counted nearly 1,600 victims.

In March, the Spanish Church said it had discovered more than 500 cases of child sex abuse through a complaints procedure launched in 2020.

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BARCELONA ATTACKS

Spain marks five years since Catalonia jihadist attacks

A ceremony was held in Barcelona on Wednesday in memory of 16 people killed in jihadist attacks in the Catalan city and a nearby resort exactly five years ago.

Spain marks five years since Catalonia jihadist attacks

Dozens of people observed a minute’s silence on the tree-lined Las Ramblas boulevard where on August 17, 2017 a van mowed down pedestrians, leaving a trail of death.

As a cellist played a traditional Catalan song, relatives of the victims and officials laid white carnations in front of a memorial plaque marking the spot where the van came to a halt.

Among those attending were Transport Minister Raquel Sánchez, Culture minister Miquel Iceta, the president of the regional government of Catalonia Pere Aragonès, and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.

“This date used to be just another day in the calendar. Now on August 17 you always wake up with a knot in your stomach,” Colau told public television TVE just before the ceremony.

The attacks, which also left 140 people injured, were carried out by a cell made up mostly of young people of Moroccan descent who grew up in Catalonia. They were claimed by the Islamic State group.

The first attack took place on the famous Ramblas avenue in Barcelona, where a truck rammed into passers-by, killing 14 people, mostly foreign tourists. The youngest victim was a three-year-old boy.

Relatives of victims hold white carnation flowers to place at Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona, on August 17, 2022, as the city marks the fifth anniversary of the 2017 jihadist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 16 people dead. – A van rammed into crowds on Las Ramblas Boulevard in the heart of Barcelona on August 17, 2017, igniting four days of terror. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

The driver, who had killed a 30-year-old man to steal his car while fleeing, was shot dead a few days later by the police.

Several hours after the first attack, five accomplices drove into more pedestrians and stabbed a woman who later died of her injuries in Cambrils, a seaside resort 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the south. All five suspects were shot dead by police.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Barcelona and Cambrils had “suffered hate and terror in their streets”.

“Five years later, we remember the victims of these attacks with our sights set on continuing to build a future of peace,” he said.

A Spanish court in 2021 found three men guilty of assisting the perpetrators of the attacks and sentenced them to eight, 46 and 53 years in jail.

But last month, a court reduced by 10 years the sentences of the two men who had received the longest jail terms. The third convict was granted parole in September 2021.

A handful of protesters who accuse the Spanish government of being behind the attacks jeered and chanted during the moment of silence and held up signs that read: “We demand the truth”.

The protest was called by several small Catalan separatist groups and some of the signs held up by the participants had Catalan separatist flags.

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