The Spanish Conference of Religious (Confer) has called the major superiors of all orders and religious congregations in the country to address sexual abuse of minors in the Church, a scandal that is undermining the image of the institution throughout the world. The first meeting was held on Wednesday, according to a statement made public this Friday by the institution, in which the entity recognizes the "seriousness and guilt" of these crimes, "the concealment treatment that has been given" and solidarity with the victims "in their pain and claim for justice." The publication of the document came a day after the Jesuits of Catalonia confirm that they are going to investigate sexual abuse committed in colleges of the order the last 60 years, after the recent diffusion by EL PAÍS of several cases that affect their order. The majority of reports of pedophilia that have reached this newspaper concern religious congregations.
Unlike other countries, such as France or Germany, the Spanish Episcopal Conference has refused to make a report to expose the cases of abuses committed in its bosom in recent decades. Yes, it has created a reserved committee to update its protocols, but only in the legal aspect, so that in this team there are no affected or external technicians to provide a broader vision. There are no victims either. In fact, they have never been invited in the few cases in which the Spanish Church has acted in the face of pedophilia.
In addition, this week the Government has taken a step back and has stated that it is not within its competence to require the Church to investigate abuses. That has been one of the reasons why the abused feel more alone and psychologically more affected, according to the victimologist Gema Varona.
"When I read what the government said, I did not sleep at all throughout the night. What is being done with the victims of abuse in this country is intolerable. Politicians and society are not aware that this issue is about abused children, "says Javier, a victim of abuse, of the La Bañeza Seminary (León).
Confer is an institution that brings together all the orders of Spain and its religious and is not subject to the authority of the bishops. Its operation is similar to that of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, so it is a collegiate organization that has no power over the superiors of the orders, who depend directly on Rome. Representatives of religious orders will not be present at the meeting that Pope Francis has convened in February in order to deal with the issue of pedophilia with all the Episcopal Conferences of the world.
"The level of concern is high. Confer, as an institution, has always been supporting all the people who have needed help, "a spokesperson told the newspaper.
According to the institution, the first meeting was attended by the superiors of the most numerous orders and with the greatest presence in educational institutions, such as Marists, Salesians and Jesuits, and also those who have more cases of alleged abuse of minors in their midst. They treated "diverse aspects that are reflected with insistence" in the selection of candidates for the priesthood and religious life. For the first time, they presented the possibility of making a psychological evaluation of the aspirants, as well as another spiritual and apostolic one throughout their formation. The orders believe that an "emotional maturity" should be demanded for those who wish to assume celibacy and ask to be ordained priests. "We are aware that people who assume chastity for the Kingdom of God as a life option, have the challenge of achieving their full personal development through a wise and mature balance in their social integration and in the religious community and must be helped and accompanied in this human and spiritual process, "the statement said.
In the meeting, Confer "urged", in addition, the major superiors to pay attention to all those people who collaborate with the religious in the educational, social and pastoral institutions.
The entity has not specified what will be the plan that will be followed in the next meetings or if you plan create a commission, as the Episcopal Conference has done, to update its current protocols against pedophilia.
The Spanish Conference of Religious stresses that these processes were already carried out beforehand and that these meetings serve to "refresh" and "remember" these representatives the processes that must be carried out before the selection of new members, as well as the way to act before a complaint or knowledge of a crime of sexual abuse of a minor. The organization emphasizes that it has never received reports of pedophilia, but wants to "be at the forefront and solve this problem". Since 2010, Confer has on its website a protocol for action against abuses, however, as is the case with the Spanish Episcopal Conference, it is not binding. "We have no power over superiors. These meetings arose to remind and advise the representatives of the orders what they have to do before the denunciations ", specifies the Conference.
According to the entity, these processes "must be translated" so that they have to be continued. "When there is an election it is not a process of free will. They are appointments that are made conscientiously, through a series of interviews, questionnaires and follow-up. In Confer we want it to be done and continue to be done, since the superiors are changing and we must inform them. Things grind slowly. We have opened the door to continue meeting, "says the Conference. "They are doubly serious: before civil laws and society, but even more so before the Church, as soon as they have been committed by people who enjoyed the trust of their parents. They are crimes that transcend the place where they have been committed and become a global stain for the consecrated life and, therefore, for the Church. "
One of the issues that has come back to the cases of sexual abuse in the Church has been the celibacy of priests and has been one of the issues discussed in the meeting of the superiors of religious orders. The theologian Margarita Pintos says that the Church's goal of relating celibacy with pedophilia is to "hide the existence of this". "Linking celibacy with child abuse is a bad combination and has no reason to be. Celibacy was created for economic purposes so that the inheritance of the priests would stay in the Church, "says Pintos.
Gema Varona, president of the Basque Society of Victimology, explains that there is no serious study that demonstrates that a celibate person is more likely to abuse a minor, so that inciting or justifying pedophilia with this sexual imposition "is useless and it's false. " "Most priests are celibate and do not abuse. It is a discourse very similar to the one that tries to relate celibacy with homosexuality, "the victimologist points out. However, he emphasizes that priests do not have psychological support that allows them to face that condition they have chosen.
Regarding the selection process, Varona says that there is no definitive psychological evidence that can really certify if a person has a tendency to pedophilia and that the ideal would be to accompany and educate the priest or religious at the beginning and throughout his or her priestly life. . "You have to bear in mind that many entered a seminar at age 12 and do not know anything. Within those sites they have been taught that sex is sin, "says Varona.