Madrid, Spain

Spain's Catholic Church is to set up local commissions to hear complaints from victims of abuse after holding talks with Pope Francis on Friday about allegations over eight decades detailed in a Spanish newspaper.

El Pais in December published the results of a three-year investigation it said uncovered potential abuse by 251 priests and some lay people from religious institutions against at least 1,237 victims between 1943 and 2018.

Vatican Pope Francis 12 Jan 2021

Pope Francis holds the weekly general audience at the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican, on 12th January. PICTURE: Vatican Media/Handout via Reuters.

It said its correspondent gave a 385-page dossier to the Pope on 2nd December while the papal entourage and journalists were flying from Rome to Cyprus.

Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, the president of Spain's Bishops' Conference, discussed sex abuse issues with him at the Vatican and said each diocese would set up a commission to receive accusations and then investigate.

They "will gather complaints, support those people who feel they have been harmed and prevent these things from happening again", Omella told a news conference after their meeting.

Sexual abuse scandals in the global Catholic Church first hit the headlines in 2002, when US daily the Boston Globe wrote a series of articles exposing a abuse of minors by clerics and a widespread culture of concealment within the church. 

Last June, the Pope said the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis was a worldwide "catastrophe". Since his election in 2013, he has taken a series of steps aimed at wiping out sexual abuse of minors by clerics. 

The Spanish church has rejected suggestions it set up an independent investigation body as has been done in France and has recently been announced in Portugal.

Omella said it was better for victims to be handled by local dioceses and the commissions would "clarify and carry out all the necessary processes as required by the Holy See and civil courts".