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SINS OF THE CHURCH

Catholic priest expelled over sex abuse claims

Spanish Church takes unprecedented step after women accuse Mallorca curate

Case is one of the country's first to come to light

Pere Barceló has been accused of sexually abusing several underage girls.
Pere Barceló has been accused of sexually abusing several underage girls.

In a landmark decision, the Spanish Catholic Church has expelled a priest accused of pedophilia. Pere Barceló, a 60-year-old priest from the resort town of Can Picafort on the island of Mallorca, has been accused by three women of sexually abusing them when they were children in the 1990s, and now faces criminal charges that could lead to a prison term of up to 18 years. He is the first priest to have been expelled from the Spanish Church over sex abuse allegations.

On March 21, the Bishop of Mallorca, Javier Salinas, announced that following an internal investigation Barceló had been found to have violated the sixth commandment — forbidding adultery — with minors, and had been expelled from the priesthood as "the maximum punishment."

Writing in his blog, Salinas said: "I am not washing my hands of this matter," adding that Barceló's expulsion "is a corrective for this person, because he is being excluded from a state and a service that he had wanted. This is a way of saying to the victims: we recognize the pain and the injustice you have suffered." The final decision on Barceló's fate lies with the Vatican, where he can appeal to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The priest had been suspected of abuse in the late 1990s, but the Church allegedly hushed up a complaint against him. In June 1998, Mateu Ferrer, a young boy undergoing catechism, reported him to the authorities, saying that he had seen him abusing a young girl in the church at Can Picafort. The case was not followed up, with Ferrer receiving a reprimand by the local Church authorities.

We are recognizing the pain and injustice suffered by victims"

Barceló was finally removed from his duties by Salinas' predecessor in 2011, when a woman reported him to the bishop's office for allegedly abusing her when she was a child. Two other women had reported Barceló. One of them said she had been repeatedly abused and raped by him in 1997 and 1998, when she was 10 and 11 years old.

Acting on an order from 2005 issued by Pope Benedict XVI telling the Church to investigate all signs of pedophilia, the Mallorca bishop's office launched an investigation in 2011.

The three women then brought criminal charges against Barceló in November 2012, two of them with the help of an organization called Rana, an NGO that works with child abuse victims. They had previously reported the case to the Civil Guard and their local courts.

The bishop's decision has prompted two priests on the island to come to the defense of Barceló. Pere Fiol told a local radio station that the woman who has accused his former colleague "has had several partners, getting rid of them when it suited her. I don't think that she was forced. This girl does not seem to me to be what you might call shy. I doubt that she was forced by the curate."

I don't think she was forced. This girl does not seem to be what you might call shy"

Fiol suggested that the woman who has brought the charges may have been motivated by money, while seemingly excusing Barceló by saying he had been going through "a bad time." The woman in question says that she will sue Fiol for damages.

Jaume Santandreu, a curate who works with the homeless, and who reported a priest for sexually abusing him when he was a child, described Fiol's comments as "as spitting in the wounds of the victims" in his blog: "Defending a pederast colleague is disgraceful, and is a knife in the heart."

But Miquel Mulet, a priest in Rajada, has criticized the expulsion, saying that the pedophilia claims are a slur "for life, without the possibility of redemption or making amends." Commenting on the bishop's blog, he asked for "forgiveness to be considered following this scare," adding that the priest needed psychological help and that he would ask for forgiveness for the "sin of pederasty."

Spain has barely featured in the ongoing debate about sexual abuse and accusations of an institutional cover-up within the Catholic Church. Over the last decade there have been only a handful of confirmed sex abuse cases involving Spanish clergy brought to the Vatican's attention.

In late 2010, two cases hit the headlines: one involving a Carmelite monk in Valencia; the other against Franciscan priests running a care home in Córdoba, the first such abuse charges to become public in Spain.

The diocese of Segorbe-Castellón said in a statement at the time that the monk was from the Carmelite Order and that action had been taken against him. It did not name the man, nor give details of the charges he faces. The diocese has refused to comment further. The religious order is believed to have transferred the monk to northern Spain and banned him from being alone with children as a precautionary measure. It passed on details of the suspected case to the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Valencia regional High Court, but so far no charges are known to have been brought.

The care home run by the Franciscan Order of the White Cross in Córdoba came under scrutiny in October 2010 when an anonymous letter led to the detention of a lay worker, who was then charged with three counts of sexual abuse.