For many years, V. C., 36, kept quiet about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the local priest between the ages of six and 13 in Villaviciosa, in the northern Spanish region of Asturias. Then, in 2015, she finally felt ready to report the priest and sent a handwritten letter to the archbishop of Oviedo, Jesús Sanz Montes, in which she described what had happened and the devastating effect it had on her.
When she met the archbishop in person, he held her letter in one hand and told her that nothing could be done. “He said it was my word against his, that they had sent [her assailant] away some years earlier due to other problems, and that he was under observation,” she says.
I was already having anxiety attacks when I was 14
The archbishop did not encourage her to file a legal complaint, as established by the Spanish Episcopal Conference’s abuse protocol since 2010. Nor did he launch ecclesiastical proceedings against the priest in question.
“When I left, I was so angry that I looked up associations that fight violence against women and I got in touch with one of them. I finally filed a complaint in 2016,” says V. C.
The priest, E. S. F., was subpoenaed. He showed up with a lawyer from the diocese and denied everything. According to V. C., the Asturias High Court dismissed the accusation because the alleged crime was past the statute of limitations. “We are now appealing,” she says, adding that her lawyer is compiling evidence to support that fact that the misconduct was reported within the prescribed period.
It was not the first time that the parish priest had been accused of this kind of crime. When the abuse was going on, V. C. was living with her divorced mother in a Christian community led by the priest. A few relatives discovered the abuse and reported it, but there was not enough evidence to back up their claims. “It all happened in a closed environment, in a Christian community that was approved by the bishops. I remember the bishop coming to visit sometimes,” says V. C.
The Archdiocese of Oviedo has confirmed that the case was shelved in 1997 and, with respect to V. C.’s more recent complaint, the offenses are no longer subject to prosecution. There was no mention of whether ecclesiastical proceedings had ever been undertaken, either then or recently.
In 2012, the Archbishop of Oviedo decided to remove the priest from the parish without offering any explanations. The locals came out onto the street to protest against the diocese’s decision. In 2018, the diocese announced the priest had been moved to Pola de Siero, 35 kilometers from Villaviciosa.
When the abuse was going on, V. C. was living with her divorced mother in a Christian community led by the priest
As a biology student, V. C. found herself dogged by memories of the abuse. “I went into a depression and started to see a psychologist. I told her everything and got better, but I had a relapse when I went abroad some years later. I went to see another psychologist who encouraged me to take action,” she says.
It was then that she wrote the letter to the archbishop. “I was already having anxiety attacks when I was 14,” she says. “While my cousins played, all I could think about was what had happened to me. They stole my childhood. How could I be making that up?”
She is furious about Spain’s statute of limitations on child abuse. Currently, the time period begins when the victim turns 18. According to the severity of the case, the courts have between five and 15 years to act – meaning that the oldest possible age of the victim when the statute of limitations runs out is 33. V. C. says it was very difficult to take action and, now that she has, she doesn’t have enough evidence to back up her claims.
“I have nothing but what I told the psychologist,” she says. “I don’t have bruises. I don’t know who decided that you should be able to deal with what happened to you in a set amount of time. It seems very arbitrary.”
English version by Heather Galloway.