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“Who is going to dare to take the step to report abuse in the Church now?”

The man who was contacted by the pope after he wrote to him about the sexual assaults he suffered at the hands of Catholic priests breaks his silence in an interview with EL PAÍS

The former altar boy and catechist from Granada who was phoned by an apologetic Pope Francis in 2014 in response to a letter he wrote to the Vatican reporting sexual abuse, has decided to break his silence. He has spent years hiding from the press and when he welcomes EL PAÍS into his office in Pamplona, it is on condition he is not photographed and can remain anonymous, using the name Daniel for the purposes of this article.

Daniel testifies in court.
Daniel testifies in court. EFE

“I don’t want to be pointed at in the street,” he says. A university professor, Daniel is 28, married and a member of the Catholic organization, Opus Dei. “I went through a lot and so did my family,” he says. “I ended up with the shakes and anxiety attacks. I decided to speak out about it because I don’t want anyone else to go through the same thing.”

Daniel feels pained and saddened by the handling of his case, both by the judiciary and the Catholic Church. “Hurt because some who abused me have gone back to their parishes, and who knows if they will go back to what they were doing,” he says.

Daniel remembers with absolute clarity the day the pope gave him a call, just weeks after he sent his letter to the Vatican. “I was driving in Granada and the phone rang,” he recalls. “On the other end of the line, someone said, ‘This is Father George.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anyone called Father George.’ And he said, ‘No my son, this is Pope Francis.’ I froze and pulled over. I was all nervous and sweating.”

The assaults happened over a period of time, starting when Daniel was 13,

The call was picked up by the press and Daniel’s case made headlines in all the main newspapers.

Granada’s public prosecutor initiated proceedings and, after interrogating Daniel and the priests mentioned in the letter, brought a lawsuit against eight priests and one layman for sexual abuse, in a case that became known as Romanones. All nine under investigation were accused of cover-ups and milder transgressions involving non-penetrative abuse and one was also accused of rape.

The assaults happened over a period of time, starting when Daniel was 13, though it wasn’t until he was 15 that the priests persuaded him to go and live with them.

“They told me that I shouldn’t continue to live with my parents, that I should be with them in the parish to see if God was calling me… I never had my own bed there. I had to share a bed with one of them, often naked,” he wrote to the pope.

“I didn’t understand how this could be happening to me in a church and with priests,” he says. “I have always been attracted to girls and what they were saying was normal and God’s will repelled me.”

They said that I should have reported it earlier. But who is going to inform on priests when they are 17?

In the criminal courts, the case has come to nothing, despite the fact that Judge Antonio Moreno and the public prosecutor, who had originally asked for nine years jail time for the main perpetrator, observed there was sufficient evidence. Given that the abuse had taken place some years before, the judge separated the milder transgressions from the more serious. And he shelved the former, not because they hadn’t happened, but because the statute of limitations had expired – meaning that the time period in which a milder offense can be tried is over. In the event, only one priest was taken to court on March 2017 on a rape charge, of which he was subsequently acquitted.

The acquittal was based on an alleged lack of evidence and, adding insult to injury, Daniel was ordered to pay the court costs for bringing a lawsuit in bad faith. The Supreme Court, however, rectified this in April of this year, pointing out that the lawsuit had been backed by Judge Antonio Moreno and Andalusia’s public prosecutor. Moreover, the Granada ruling had not, at any point, deemed Daniel’s accusations false.

Pope Francis in Vatican City this week
Pope Francis in Vatican City this week Getty Images

“Who is going to dare to take the step to report abuse now?” says Daniel. “They said that I should have reported it earlier. But who is going to inform on priests when they are 17, still at high school, and traumatized as I was, no one would have believed me. Later [at 24] I came forward because I saw people I knew and relatives in the parish and I was scared the same thing could happen to them. In canonical law, it is still possible to take action against the priests for the non-penetrative abuse I was subjected to.”

Now living in Pamplona, Daniel continues his crusade against abuses committed by the Catholic Church. “Victims of abuse that recently came to light in Astorga and other areas in Spain have called me,” says Daniel, who listens to their stories and tries to give helpful advice. “Some have found it too much to bear and have committed suicide.”

He recalls the case of a boy he had contact with who hung himself the day he was planning to report the abuse – when they cut him down they found his statement in his pocket.

Curiously, despite all that has happened to him, Daniel’s faith remains unshaken. “When I got over it all, Opus gave me all their support and helped me a lot,” he says.

Last month, Daniel wrote again to Pope Francis. This time it was to ask for information on what has become of the canonical proceedings that were initiated when he first informed him of the abuse. “I am part of these proceedings and I haven’t been kept informed of anything – of whether they are still in progress or have been stayed,” he says.

Despite all that has happened to him, Daniel’s faith remains unshaken

According to Daniel, the canonical proceedings differ from minor criminal proceedings in as much as the statute of limitations has a 20-year period, double that of the ordinary judicial system. “In canonical law, it’s still possible to take action against the priests for the non-penetrative abuse I was subjected to,” he says. “This is the abuse which did not go to trial because the statute of limitations had expired and which was perpetrated by not just one but all of those under investigation.”

Daniel’s latest correspondence with the Pope begins: “Dear Holy Father […] I am the young man who wrote to you at the start of August 2014, describing to you the sexual abuse I was subjected to at the hands of three priests in the diocese of Granada.” He goes on to explain that despite the charges being dropped against the priests in question, the accusations are legitimate. “The Spanish Supreme Court was clear that though the crime of sexual abuse with penetration was not able to be proven by the court in Granada, it does not mean it did not happen.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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