Three Catholic priests and a teacher were arrested Monday in southern Spain's Granada region, suspected of child sex abuse in a scandal that has shaken this traditionally Catholic country.
The arrested priests were among 10 clergymen the Catholic Church suspended from duty last week, after learning of abuse allegations. All four men were taken to national police headquarters, where they were to be held for 72 hours, and face a judge, according to police and Spain's interior minister. No charges had yet been filed.
Monday's arrests were the latest development in a sex abuse scandal that in recent weeks has rocked Spain, which has seen far fewer priestly abuse allegations than in the United States.
It began when a 24-year-old teacher from Granada wrote a five-page letter to Pope Francis, describing how several local priests sexually abused him as a child, when he was an altar boy in the Granada parish of Juan Maria de Vianneimeno. The alleged victim, identified only as "Daniel," wrote that pedophile priests gradually persuaded him to leave his family and live in a parish rectory, where they repeatedly abused him.
He told Spanish media last week that he received a phone call in response to his letter from the pontiff, apologizing for the abuse and promising to investigate. The Vatican would neither confirm nor deny the phone call.
The Catholic Church then suspended 10 priests and two lay people who worked or volunteered in Granada dioceses.
Spanish media have quoted court filings as saying the priests were members of an ultraconservative sect known as Los Romanones, which reportedly recruited children to secret meetings and trained them to perform sex acts with adults. The sect may be named after its purported ringleader, a priest identified as Father Roman V, who was among those arrested Monday. The others were identified as Francisco J. M. and Manuel M. In Spanish court documents, it is customary for defendants to be partially named by initials.
The arrests came a day after the archbishop of Granada, Francisco Javier Martinez, publicly asked for forgiveness for "scandals" affecting the church and prostrated himself before the city cathedral's high altar at Sunday Mass, lying down on the floor, alongside aides, in a gesture otherwise reserved for Good Friday.
"The evils of the church are the evils of every one of us," he said in his homily.
Frayer is a special correspondent.