MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Catholic Church on Tuesday apologised to victims of sexual abuse by priests, but questioned the accuracy of a new survey that suggested such abuse was far more widespread nationwide than previous investigations have found.
The survey, released on Friday in a report by Spain's human rights ombudsman, found that 0.6% of a sample of just over 8,000 respondents said they had been abused, rising to 1.1% when including lay people such as teachers at Catholic schools.
The Spanish Bishops' Conference, following an extraordinary meeting, expressed its "pain for the damage caused by some Church members with the sex abuses and repeated their request to the victims for forgiveness".
The Church has faced sexual abuse scandals in several countries including the United States, Ireland and France over past decades. But the issue only surfaced for public debate in Spain, where nearly 60% of people describe themselves as Catholic, following a landmark media investigation in 2021.
The Conference, which the ombudsman criticised for not cooperating more fully with the investigation, said it did not know how the survey was carried out or what questions were asked.
"That is to say, there is an opacity, opacity to reach a conclusion that is not logical, we do not see it as logical," Conference Chairman Cardinal Juan Jose Omella told reporters.
The results of the survey suggest more than one in 200 Spaniards may have been abused.
The ombudsman said that, while such an extrapolation might not be accurate, the percentages gave an idea "of what it can mean in terms of overall abuse".
An internal Church investigation published in June identified 728 alleged sexual abusers among Spain's clergy and 927 victims since the 1940s. That followed a 2021 report in El Pais newspaper that identified more than 1,200 alleged cases.
The ombudsman's report also called for the creation of a state fund to compensate victims.
Francisco Garcia, secretary general of the Conference, said the Church would be willing to contribute to such a fund, but it would have to involve general educational institutions, sports associations and other entities as abuse was not confined to the Church.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Inti Landauro, editing by Andrei Khalip and John Stonestreet)