16th February, 2015
A Spanish court dropped charges against 11 out of 12 suspects in the country’s biggest ever clerical sex abuse scandal because the statute of limitations had expired, court papers showed Monday.
The nine priests and two laymen had been charged with “sexual abuse with penetration, exhibitionism, and concealment of evidence” involving an underage altar boy.
But the court in the southern city of Granada, where the alleged abuse took place, ruled their accuser, now aged 25, should have brought a case within three years of turning 18.
One priest, however, is still charged with the more serious offence of “continued sexual abuse, with the introduction of a bodily member anally and attempt to introduce the penis”, according to the ruling dated January 26.
If convicted, the clergyman faces a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
He and his 11 initial co-accused were charged last month with sexual abuse or complicity in the abuse of the teenager between 2004 and 2007.
The boy was 14 when the alleged abuse began.
In terms of the number of suspects, the paedophilia case was the biggest ever involving the Catholic Church in Spain.
The alleged victim says he was raped and made to perform sex acts with one of the priests at a villa with a swimming pool. Others allegedly took part or turned a blind eye to the acts.
The alleged leader of the group told him he had a promising career as a priest ahead of him and chided him for resisting his advances, he was quoted in the charge sheet as saying.
– Case Caused Pope ‘Great Pain’ –
Pope Francis said he had ordered a church investigation into the case after the unidentified man wrote to him, telling him he had been molested as an altar boy.
The Argentine pontiff told reporters on November 25 that he heard of the case “with great pain, very great pain, but the truth is the truth and we should not hide it”.
A second man aged 44 has also accused one of the priests of abuse in the early 1990s.
Pope Francis has taken a zero-tolerance approach to clerical sex abuse since taking over as pope in 2013 from Benedict XVI.