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El Pais Newspaper: Catholic Church in Spain Faces Major Abuse Investigation

FILE - Spanish bishops arrive in the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican for an 'ad limina apostolurum' meeting with Pope Francis, Dec. 16, 2021.

Spain's Catholic Church is to open an investigation into alleged sex abuse of hundreds of children by members of the clergy dating back 80 years that the newspaper El Pais has uncovered, the daily said on Sunday.

The investigation will look into allegations of abuse against 251 priests and some lay people from religious institutions that the paper has uncovered, El Pais said.

The paper has not published in full its findings from a three-year investigation it conducted into the issue, but said its correspondent gave a 385-page dossier to Pope Francis on Dec. 2 while the papal entourage and journalists were flying from Rome to Cyprus.

The number of victims is at least 1,237 but could rise into the thousands, the paper said. The allegations concern 31 religious orders and 31 of the country's some 70 dioceses. The oldest case dates back to 1942 and the most recent to 2018.

The investigation will be carried out by the Spanish bishops conference, which is headed by Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, the archbishop of Barcelona, according to El Pais.

Officials from the bishops conference were not available for comment on Sunday.

A Vatican spokesman was not immediately available, but the Vatican does not usually comment on the work of national bishops conferences.

In November, Pope Francis thanked journalists for helping to uncover clerical sexual abuse scandals that the Catholic Church originally tried to cover up.