Three priests, teacher arrested in Spain sex abuse case

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MADRID — It might all have remained a dark secret, if a young man who was an alleged victim of sexual abuse hadn’t written a letter to the Vatican. And then gotten a surprise phone call from Pope Francis, according to a Spanish digital newspaper.

On Monday, Spanish police arrested three Catholic priests and a religion teacher on suspicion of abusing a minor, Spain’s interior minister announced.

A court statement from Granada confirmed the arrests of four people “for a case of sexual abuse,” and said it would hear initial charges before a judge within three days. The investigation is under seal.

The arrests came a day after the Archbishop of Granada and other clerics took the unusual step of prostrating themselves in the cathedral during Sunday 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 due to 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.

But this latest case caught the attention of the Vatican and the Pope, thanks to a man, reportedly now 24, who wrote to the Vatican to say he was sexually abused when he was underage by church figures in Granada.

The Spanish online journal Religion Digital published what it said was a conversation between Pope Francis and the alleged victim from August 10, with the Pope asking for forgiveness in the name of the church.

The alleged victim was cited with a fictitious name, Daniel, Religion Digital reported, adding that 12 people, 10 of them priests, were under investigation.

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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