SHAFAQNA – In a case that Pope Francis says he’s taken an interest in after speaking to one of the alleged victims, a Spanish judge on Wednesday filed preliminary charges of sexual abuse against three Catholic priests and a religious teacher.
Investigating magistrate Antonio Moreno, in the southern city of Granada, ordered the suspected ringleader, a priest, to post a $12,500 bond in order to leave jail, according to a court statement and spokeswoman. The suspect posted the bond, and Moreno released the others from custody without bond, the statement said.
The four must report regularly to authorities and can’t have any contact or communication with two alleged male victims, the court statement said.
The Pope confirmed that he received a letter from a young man describing his plight.
“I received it and I read it,” Pope Francis said of the letter. “I called the person and said, ‘Tomorrow go to your bishop.’ I wrote to the bishop so he could start his work, do the investigation and go ahead,” the Pope said, Allen reported for the Globe.
Spanish media have credited the young man’s letter to the Vatican — alleging the abuse when he was a teenaged altar boy — and then the surprise phone call from the Pope as big steps toward preventing the events from remaining a dark secret.
Attorney Javier Muriel, representing all four defendants, told CNN that they deny the charges, while acknowledging they know the man who brought the complaint.
The court investigation is under seal, and since it began, a second man has come forward to allege similar abuses.
The Andalusia regional government’s education department in Granada is moving to terminate the contract for the high school religion teacher who’s facing the preliminary charges. He’s been teaching for seven years, up until Friday, but authorities do not want him back in the classroom, a department spokeswoman told CNN.
On Sunday, the Archbishop of Granada and other clerics took the unusual step of prostrating themselves in the cathedral during Mass, “asking forgiveness for the sins of Church, for all of the scandals that have, or might have, occurred among us,” the Granada Archdiocese website reported.
The archbishop usually does that once a year, on Good Friday, but he lay on the floor of the cathedral Sunday because of the seriousness of the allegations, a Granada Archdiocese spokeswoman said. The archbishop earlier had removed an unspecified number of priests from their duties pending an investigation, she said.
The arrests of three priests in a single day over sexual abuse allegations is the biggest case of its kind in Spain, said a spokesman in Madrid for the Spanish church leadership, known as the Episcopal Conference.
Since 1997, 10 priests have been convicted of sexual abuse, in individual cases, most recently in 2010, the spokesman said.
The Pope has called for “zero tolerance” of sexual abuse by clerics and has said Catholic bishops “will be held accountable” for failing to protect children from such abuse.
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