Delivery of the Report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the role of public authorities. A much-needed response to the Spanish parliament

Delivery of the Report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the role of public authorities. A much-needed response to the Spanish parliament


The Ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, presented the Report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the role of public authorities. A much-needed response, to the President of the Spanish Parliament, Francina Armengol and complying with the assignment received from the Spanish Congress after the approval of a Non-Law Proposition (PNL), on 10 March 2022, which had the favourable Vote of the majority of the political groups in the Lower House.

The Report has 777 pages and will be hosted in its entirety on the Ombudsman’s website ( In addition to a presentation by the head of the institution and a general introduction, it includes, among other things, the areas of action, objectives, methodology and sources used, details of a survey commissioned to GAD3, the legal framework, and conclusions-recommendations that are submitted to the Spanish Parliament and the Spanish Government for “the adoption of the necessary measures in order to comply with the objective of the commission”, as stated in the aforementioned PNL.

The Ombudsman points out, as he states in the introduction to the Report, that “this is a necessary report to respond to a situation of suffering and loneliness that for years has been covered, in one way or another, by an unjust silence”. Ángel Gabilondo highlights the importance that the victims have had at all times when it came to tackling the work that is now coming to an end. “The victims are the first, the last and the central meaning of this report”.

Response of the Church and the public authorities

The Report notes that the response of the Catholic Church, at least at the official level, has long been characterised by denial or minimisation of the problem. Some victims have had to face not only denial and concealment, but even pressure and reactions from representatives blaming them for the abuse they suffered.

At the same time, it must be recognised that the Catholic Church is a pluralistic institution and that the Advisory Commission, set up ad hoc, was able to identify both good and bad practices. And the report recognises “the institutional courage of those who have chosen to assume the responsibility that corresponds to the institution for the victimisation that has occurred”.

For their part, the public authorities lacked adequate procedures to prevent, detect and react to the commission of child sexual abuse in Catholic Church schools. Only very recently, in 2021, were prevention and detection mechanisms and procedures introduced for all public and private schools. The majority of cases that have been reported, despite being a very small part of the reality of the problem, have not met with a response from the judicial system.


The report proposes some twenty concrete recommendations. These include a public act of recognition and symbolic reparation to victims for the long period of neglect and inactivity, in particular between 1970 and 2020. The creation of a state fund for the payment of compensation in favour of victims and that a special administrative body – created for the occasion – will be the one to establish a procedure for the recognition and reparation of victims of child sexual abuse or assault in the Catholic Church. As well as various regulatory reforms for the clarification and reparation of what happened, and to prevent similar events. In addition, the recommendations include that the Catholic Church should provide the necessary means to assist victims of sexual abuse in the recovery process by offering treatment to victims or family members, when required. And that dioceses and institutes of consecrated life open the information contained in their archives to researchers (All recommendations, in full, can be found in Part VIII Chapter 2 of the Report).

Ángel Gabilondo, who has directed the work and chaired the Advisory Commission of experts, stresses that the Report has been shaped on the basis of the testimonies of the victims. “To listen to them is to encounter the voice and experience of pain. And what has happened is a real disaster for them and for society. And he stresses, “the Ombudsman’s mission is not to judge, I am not a judge. My mission is not to legislate, I am not the legislator. Rather, the institution analyses, questions, studies, investigates, recommends and suggests.


The Victim Support Unit, also created to address the work of the Report, has collected relevant information on 487 victims, in interviews carried out both in Madrid and outside the capital. Of these, the vast majority (84%) were men. Victims emphasise the emotional and behavioural problems they suffer as a result of the abuse. And a third of them reported having experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and some of them had experienced depressive symptoms, feelings of shame and stigmatisation and suicidal action.

Victim care has been the work of a team of specialists recruited for the occasion (three psychologists, a social worker, a criminologist and a lawyer-health psychologist, with administrative support from two people). The first victims were attended to at the Victims’ Assistance Unit on 6 July 2022.

Testimonies gathered from respectful listening to victims reveal the devastating impact that sexual abuse has had on their lives. “In no case is the number of testimonies intended to determine the quantitative scope of the problem. What is important, when providing a certain number of testimonies of victims, is to keep in mind the personal uniqueness of each victim and the unfeasibility of reducing it to a number in an accounting,” the Ombudsman stresses.

In addition to the direct testimonies collected for the Report, other sources from official bodies, the Church itself and media research have been taken into account. Special mention should be made of the collaboration of the newspaper El País, which began its journalistic investigations in October 2018 and has handed over its archives to the Ombudsman’s Office on four occasions to complete its work.

Some of the testimonies collected in the Unit, with explicit quotations, are included in Part III Chapter 4 of the Report, after prior authorisation by the author.

The majority of known perpetrators are men. And only a small proportion of those accused of abuse have been tried by civilian authorities. Most were retained in their posts, transferred or, to a lesser extent, tried under canon law.

Opinion poll

The Commission commissioned an opinion poll that puts the problem in context. It reveals, among other things, that 11.7% of the people interviewed claim to have been sexually abused before the age of 18. 3.36% stated that this abuse took place in the family environment. Furthermore, the GAD3 survey also concludes that 0.6% of the representative sample of the surveyed population has been sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest or church member, and 1.13% that the assault took place in a religious setting.

72% of respondents considered child sexual abuse to be a very serious social problem and 24.4% considered it to be a fairly serious problem. However, most respondents felt that adequate measures are not being taken to reduce the problem.

Conclusions and recommendations

The conclusions and subsequent recommendations in this report are not intended as a final word. And even less a definitive solution or an end to such a great harm that has affected and still affects so many people for so long. Rather, it aspires to contribute to the awareness that began a few years ago on the part of Spanish society, reminding and requiring the Catholic Church and the public authorities that the need to respond to the victims is still open.

Ángel Gabilondo stresses that “the report provides clarity, data and arguments on an issue that is difficult for everyone to address, but that it is essential to do so. It is about assuming responsibilities, which means being responsible for their actions, responding to society and responding to the victims. And this necessary response requires that the report we are submitting to the Spanish Parliament, through its president, contributes to greater awareness of the issue, and to effectively provide a response to the victims, a response that they demand with good reason”.


SUMMARY in both Spanish and English: Report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the role of public authorities. PDF (724 KB)

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