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Spain sets up fund for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy

by Reuters Journalist

Spain is to set up a fund, to be financed largely by the Catholic Church, to compensate an estimated 440,000 victims of decades of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, staff or teachers, the justice minister announced on Tuesday.

A report in October by Spain's human rights ombudsman produced the estimate from a survey of 8,000 people. It recommended the creation of a state fund, accusing the Church of a lack of cooperation and seeking to "minimise the phenomenon".

Justice Minister Felix Bolanos told reporters the Church, hugely influential in Spanish society and politics up to and beyond the end of a right-wing dictatorship in the 1970s, had failed over decades to address calls for reparations, and that its responses to the report had varied by diocese. 

"We want to respond in order to prevent, to repair and to try to settle the debt that our society owes the victims," Bolanos said.

The government scheme, set to run until 2027, foresees a still-undefined formula that would require the Church to "pay all or a substantial part of the compensation and provide other elements of symbolic reparation". 

Bolanos said his ministry would negotiate with bishops on the Church's contribution to the fund, and that he had the impression it was willing to cooperate.

However, the Spanish Bishops' Conference said it could not accept a plan that excluded victims of sexual abuse in other organisations as it represented a "condemnatory judgement of the entire Church ... that addresses only part of the problem".

In November, the Church said for the first time that it would compensate victims even in cases left unconcluded because the offending priest had died.

Bolanos said an independent expert body would study cases in which the abuser had died or the statute of limitations had passed, or that never made it to court.

The government also plans to organise a public event with victims and their relatives to offer "symbolic reparation" on behalf of the state.

In neighbouring Portugal, the Church announced this month it would compensate victims on a case-by-case basis, an approach survivors' groups have criticised.

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