Spanish cathedral holds mass for victims of clerical sex abuse

A journalist watches a televised live feed as priest Josu Lopez Villalba, a victim of sexual abuse, speaks during a mass, he holds alongside the Bishop of Bilbao, Joseba Segura, where forgiveness was asked for from victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, in Bilbao, Spain, March 24, 2023. The mass is the first of its kind in Spain. REUTERS/Vincent West

BILBAO (Reuters) - Bilbao Cathedral in northern Spain held a mass on Friday to recognise and apologise to victims of sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic Church in the diocese, in one of the first services of its kind in Spain.

Spain has been confronting cases of sexual abuse since El Pais newspaper reported in December 2021 more than 1,200 alleged cases of abuse by clergy spanning seven decades.

Josu Lopez Villalba, a priest who was also a victim of abuse, joined other victims at the service on Friday.

"The act was profound and silent. No need for words, the people who were there know why they were there," Lopez told Reuters.

"We were kids, we didn't understand. Afterwards you realise. This was necessary for the church and for victims."

Joseba Imanol Ibarra, another victim, said in other parts of Spain such a mass might not have been held.

"We were lucky this happened in this diocese. If this happened in Valladolid, in Madrid or in any other place they would not have listened to us," he told Reuters after the service.

Joseba Segura, the Bishop of Bilbao, recognised the abuses committed by priests in the Basque Country in northern Spain and asked for forgiveness.

"We want to share with them and listen to them," he told the congregation.

Some victims placed candles on the altar during the service and a plaque on the cathedral wall which read: "In memory of all the people who were victims of sex abuse in our Church."

Spain's parliament has tasked the country's ombudsman with investigating sexual abuse by members of the Spanish Catholic Church

The ombudsman, Angel Gabilondo, said in a statement on Sept. 13 that his office had already assisted 201 victims, mostly men, in the first two months of the probe, whose conclusions will be presented to parliament.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley and Vincent West; Editing by Josie Kao)

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