Ех-priest gets 30 years in prison for child abuse in Spain

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced a former priest to 30 years in prison for abusing seven minors at a Catholic boarding school nearly a decade ago when he worked as their tutor.

Allegations of child abuse by Catholic clergy and possible cover-ups by the church have surfaced in recent months in Spain, years after similar scandals rocked the Church in other countries such as the United States, Ireland and France.

Church officials were not immediately available for comment. The former priest had denied wrongdoing in the past.

The religious authority in the central province of Ciudad Real defrocked the priest in 2019 and reported the case to prosecutors after an internal investigation into abuses committed when he tutored male teenage students.

In its ruling, the court said he had taken advantage of his position to inappropriately touch the boys' genitals, for instance while pretending to be playing in a swimming pool, or in private rooms under the pretext of medical "treatment".

The court ruled the touching was "of clearly sexual character". It also ordered the man to pay a fine of 52,920 euros and a compensation of 2,000 euros to each of the victims.

El Pais newspaper reported in December on more than 1,200 alleged cases of abuse by clergy spanning seven decades, and parliament subsequently tasked the country's ombudsman with carrying out an investigation.

The ombudsman, Angel Gabilondo, said in a statement on Tuesday that his office had already assisted 201 victims, mostly men, in the first two months of the probe, whose conclusions will be presented to parliament.

"We are satisfied with the rate at which testimonies are coming in and with the number of victims who have approached us, but what really matters and concerns us, more than the number, is to listen to the victims and to do so respectfully, seriously, discreetly and confidentially," he said.

The Spanish Catholic Church said early in 2022 it was deeply saddened by the abuses and would work with the authorities and bring transparency, help and reparations to victims. It has also launched diocesan-level inquiries that are being overseen by a private law firm.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, editing by Deepa Babington)