The Spanish Church has not only used the system of changing parish priests, or destiny within an order, after being accused of child abuse. Another pattern of behavior in recent decades has been to move them abroad. This is confirmed by sources from the Vatican agencies for the Protection of Minors, which recognize that it has been a common tactic in Spain and other countries. EL PAÍS has documented up to 18 cases of cures reported or condemned for abuses that have landed in other countries or have been accused or detained abroad. In Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras, the United States, Benin and Kenya.
Some were news in their day, but their subsequent steps were not followed. Others went unnoticed in Spain. There are also unpublished cases, following allegations of victims located by this newspaper, such as two Salesians from the Deusto school in Bilbao. EL PAÍS will report the main cases in the coming days.
One of the most flagrant examples is that of Jordi Ignasi Senabre, denounced by a 13-year-old altar boy from Barcelona in 1988 and that he fled. This newspaper has located him in Ecuador, where he has exerted until today as a priest, and the bishopric of Barcelona has known at all times his whereabouts, according to the Ecuadorian diocese of Santo Domingo.
The situation of many of the most important cases of that period came to be known in Rome much later than it had happened. Sometimes they could not be investigated due to the lack of collaboration of the bishops or because the victims preferred not to give their testimony. Sources of organs for the Guardianship of Vatican Minors indicate that the exile of priests may have become a relatively common practice for a period, but that the Pope Francis, with his policy of zero tolerance, calls for a radical change and many cases have been reopened and revised.
In the 18 cases analyzed there are two types of situations: religious that are discovered in Spain and are transferred abroad, and those who are detained in another country for these crimes. The question then arises of whether they had previous accusations in their place of origin, as has been demonstrated on occasion.
The last known episode is that of the Augustinian Recollect Ivan Merino, arrested in Venezuela two weeks ago, accused of abusing a minor. In this case, both his order and the diocese of Granada, where he was a professor in a school until 2015, assure that his transfer had nothing to do with previous complaints and that there is no record. The same happens with the case of Joan Alonso Bonals, 53, parish priest of Alcanar and Les Cases de Alcanar between 2011 and 2016 (Tarragona), who moved to Honduras. He was arrested there in August 2017 on an arrest warrant issued by Spain and extradited. He is accused of abuse and prostitution of a child under 16 years of age. The diocese of Tortosa maintains that there are no previous complaints against him. He is on provisional liberty.
In contrast, the arrest in Chile in 2009 of José Ángel Arregui, of the San Viator order, He uncovered crimes committed by the priest previously in Spain. There were complaints in seven schools that had happened in the Basque Country, Aragon and Madrid. He was convicted in 2011, but part of the cases had been prescribed. Currently, he is at liberty, confirming his former congregation.
Many of these priests belong to religious orders, which have structure abroad. The case of the Marists in Chile stands out: four Spanish religious are being investigated within a great open cause against the order. The dioceses, for their part, can send priests to other countries as missionaries fidei donum, temporarily lent to other bishoprics, although they still belong to their ascription of origin. It is common for Spanish dioceses to have historical relations with other countries.
Toledo priest Santiago Martínez Valentín-Gamazo, 42, was jailed last year in Peru, accused of abusing four children in Moyobamba. He arrived in the country in 2007. According to the bishopric of Toledo, "he was a volunteer, like other priests of the diocese." They claim that they have no complaints in Spain.
Gil José Sáez, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Cartagena and specialist in sexual abuse in the Church, admits that although this practice has not been the most common, "it was another of the ways that the bishops and the superiors of the orders used to cover cases of pedophilia". This procedure is "a radical change in the life of the abuser", so it is difficult to "force" him to leave his country. The transfer also depends on the contacts of the bishop abroad. Hence, the vicar points out, which is more common in religious orders.
The largest case of the last decades in Catalonia
In Barcelona there is an old very unique case: accused of pedophilia in the eighties who mounted their own order and continued to commit abuses in Africa and Latin America, according to ecclesiastical sources. It is the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle and Mary Mother of the Church (MCSPA, in its acronym in English), Albert Salvans, Pere Cané and Francisco Andreo, the largest case of abuse in the Catalan Church in recent decades.
The transfers have occurred other times after a firm conviction, but without further disciplinary sanctions. It happened with the Augustinian Recollect José Luis Untoria, sentenced in 1997 for abuse of 10 children in a school in Salamanca. He received a fine and a disqualification for teaching for 10 years. A few months later he was sent to Peru, until 2009. The same thing happened with the Jesuit Luis Tó González, a professor at the San Ignacio school in Barcelona, sentenced in 1992 to two years in prison for abusing a minor. His order sent him that year to Bolivia, where he resided until his death in 2017. When these two orders were consulted, they see nothing unusual in the decision to remove them from the country and assure that they did not have any complaints afterwards. However, the Jesuits admit mistakes: "He was not opened a canonical process, and clearly understand that this was wrong (…), the action before cases of abuse has not been up to par, especially thinking about the attention to the victims and in the lack of more forceful answers, and for that reason we apologize ".
For Gema Varona, expert in child abuse and president of the Basque Society of Victimology, has been a totally anomalous and "shameful" behavior. Varona has spent years investigating abuses in the Catholic Church and is preparing the first study in Spain on the subject. "It is a practice of the Catholic Church documented in many countries, such as Germany and Belgium. The perverse thing is that it is a way for abusers to continue abusing, because in these people there is always a continuity, they tend to continue, and even more so if there has not been adequate treatment and measures. It is among the most serious errors for which the Church must ask for forgiveness some day. "
David against Goliath
This expert, who has interviewed dozens of victims, says that knowing that her assailants have been sent to another place hurts a lot, "because the only thing that worries the one who has suffered it is that it does not happen again, but they send to places with more propitious conditions for their crimes ". It emphasizes that, in countries of destination, the Church tends to have even greater power, pedophiles have access to families with greater vulnerability and local justice is less efficient.
For José Ramón Juárez, a psychologist and expert in some of the cases of abuses tried in Chile, it is not only necessary to consider the difficulty of the victim to denounce, but the inferiority of the abused in front of the Church. "For the victim it is not only David against Goliath, it is almost David against the representative of God," he explains. Juarez, specialist in abuses in Latin America and member of the Catalan association Mans Petites, stresses that ecclesiastical hierarchies tend to have more influence in these countries, "either because of the great difference between social classes or because of the strong social presence they have because of their many activities of charity, which translates into greater impunity. "
In 2002, when the scandal of abuses in the Church began, one of the first books published in Spain on the phenomenon already pointed everything. Pepe Rodríguez, coordinator of the Faculty of Communication Sciences of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, wrote in Pederasty in the Catholic Church (Ediciones B): "A priest who sexually abuses minors is usually transferred to increasingly humble parishes – under the belief that people with limited economic and cultural means are better at abusing abuse and have neither the resources nor the credibility to face to the Church – although, when the scandal begins to explode, or threatens to do so, it is very common to send the cleric to another country. The most common fate of the Spanish pedophile clergy is Latin America. "
If you know of a case that has not been reported you can send it to us through the email address [email protected]