“Our priority is to protect the victims and we want to achieve the greatest possible political consensus.” With these words, socialist sources in the Congress of Deputies explain the open negotiation process with their government partner, United We Can, but also with other political forces such as the PNV or ERC, in search of the “best formula” to launch an institutional investigation “with all the guarantees” on sexual abuse committed within the Catholic Church in Spain.
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The confederal formation registered in January, together with ERC and EH Bildu, the request for a parliamentary investigation commission on these abuses committed by religious in recent decades. He did so then in the face of the proliferation of complaints such as the one made public last month by the writer Alejandro Palomas, who has been followed by other victims both at the La Salle Premià school in which the writer suffered the attacks and in other institutions linked to the Church. Prosecutors across the country have detected 68 ongoing investigations into sexual abuse of minors committed within religious institutions, according to a statement made public this Wednesday.
The socialist part of the Government and its president, Pedro Sánchez, decided instead that it should be the Ombudsman, a position for which Ángel Gabilondo was recently elected, who should lead this investigation with the help of experts and try to seek collaboration of the Episcopal Conference itself, initially reluctant to help in the investigations, but which has recently been open to analyzing what has happened in its dioceses in recent years, although for the time being internally.
The PNV, for its part, advocated the creation of a commission of experts outside of Parliament, which should later present its conclusions in Congress. To that end, the nationalist formation registered a non-law proposal at the beginning of the month proposing that formula so that, in a year, the commission of experts carries out the appropriate investigations and then transfers them to the Constitutional Commission of the Lower House so that this , depending on the results, will adopt the initiatives it considers to tackle this scourge, without ruling out going to court.
Possible agreements in Congress
This Tuesday, the Board of Spokespersons had on the table the proposal for the investigative commission of United We Can, ERC and EH Bildu that had to decide when it would take the vote on the proposal to the Plenary Session of Congress, in case it is approved by a majority of the Chamber, begin its work in the coming weeks. But given the discrepancies about the ideal formula to study these abuses in the Church, the majority group in the Lower House, the PSOE, and its coalition partner decided to postpone the decision to a future meeting of the spokesmen that usually takes place on Tuesdays.
From the leadership of the Socialist Group they are open to listening and negotiating with United We Can and the so-called investiture bloc to try to reach a meeting point that strengthens the political consensus about the investigation. However, from the PSOE they insist that “everything” must be piloted by the Ombudsman and that the investigations must be carried out through a single channel.
The confederal group is also trying to find the greatest political unity possible, although in its case it does not consider the investigations that the body headed by Gabilondo can carry out to be incompatible with others that can be launched in Congress, arguing that in the case of the commissions of parliamentary investigation who are called to appear have the constitutional obligation to attend and tell the truth.
What all parties agree on is that it is necessary to find a formula that guarantees the protection of victims of abuse. One option raised by the groups that support the investigation being carried out in Congress is that the people who suffered these attacks by religious leaders can do so behind closed doors, that is, without the media being able to follow their appearances to ensure their privacy and safety from abusers. In this case, doubts arise because although article 76.2 of the Constitution that mentions the possibility of creating these commissions and the regulations of Congress do not specify that the appearances must be public, in the thirty investigations launched in the Lower House since 1978 they always have been.
The different positions of the coalition partners
Precisely both the PSOE and the PNV consider that investigating outside Parliament would guarantee that privacy of the victims, although in their case they study the legal formulas to be able to force the different parties involved to appear without the constitutional protection of the investigative commissions of Congress. The Magna Carta establishes, in fact, that “it will be mandatory to appear at the request of the Chambers.” And the regulations of the Congress indicate in its article 52 that these commissions can “require the presence, through the Presidency of the Congress, of any person to be heard”, which must be convened 15 days in advance.
“There are many victims’ associations that are asking for a parliamentary commission and we understand that it would be useful. There is also a concern from the PSOE that some victims may need a private space to give their testimonies, that is why they have proposed this more technical commission that hangs of the Ombudsman. What we are doing is trying to come up with a proposal that satisfies everyone,” the spokesman for United We Can in Congress, Pablo Echenique, said at a press conference on Tuesday.
From the PSOE, its spokesman, Héctor Gómez, also hoped “to reach an understanding, an agreement, and that the will of all can be translated into a very good initiative that gives very good results.” However, he wanted to make it clear that the PSOE defends that the Ombudsman investigate the abuses in the Church and then present his conclusions in Congress. “From that maximum respect for the victims who want to preserve their anonymity, we understand that this is the ideal space. But we are in the line of dialogue,” he concluded.