Spain Opens Court Inquiry on Newborn Abductions
Published: April 12, 2012 New York TimesNew York TimesTop of Form
MADRID — An 87-year-old Spanish nun became the first suspect to appear in court Thursday as part of an investigation into at least 1,500 allegations that newborns were abducted and then given or sold for adoption over four decades.The nun, Sister María Gómez Valbuena, used her right to remain silent before the judge. She then made her way from the Madrid courtroom to a waiting car amid a crowd of journalists and onlookers, some of whom jeered and shouted abuse at her.
Sister Gómez Valbuena was subpoenaed last month after being accused by María Luisa Torres of abducting her baby daughter, born in a Madrid clinic in 1982. Ms. Torres was reunited with her daughter Pilar last summer, after the start of a nationwide campaign to help parents find their abducted children, using DNA testing to confirm parentage.
While the nun refused to testify in court, she issued a statement later in the evening denying any wrongdoing and saying that she found "repugnant'" the idea that a mother could be separated from her baby. She said that she had spent her long life helping the most needy in a disinterested manner, in accordance with her profound religious beliefs.
The associations that have spearheaded the campaign met Thursday with Spain’s ministers for the interior, justice and health, as well as the attorney general, to seek stronger government support for their crusade and to push for a more speedy judicial handling of the cases.
While the associations have complained about foot-dragging by Spain’s judiciary, the attorney general and investigators have underlined the difficulty of confirming startling allegations that have resurfaced several decades after the events and that have involved several people who have since died.
The baby-snatching practices supposedly started in the 1950s under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco and are believed to have continued until about 1990, 15 years after Franco’s death.
The investigations have also proved sensitive because many of the cases have at least indirectly involved the Roman Catholic Church, since its nuns commonly worked in maternity wards or orphanages.
Antonio Barroso, president of Anadir, an association representing parents searching for missing children, described the meeting Thursday with the ministers as “clearly positive.” The ministers agreed to take several measures to help with the investigations, including devoting more staff to such inquiries as well as setting up a national archive to help coordinate and contrast the different data.
“We have wasted a lot of time, but things should speed up now,” Mr. Barroso said. “While it’s too early to claim any victory, it’s important to have strong government support.”
Anadir also says that Spain was a hub for gangs trafficking snatched babies, with many of the newborns then sold into adoption overseas. Such trafficking dwindled after 1987, it says, when tighter legislation on adoption procedures came into force in Spain.
Meanwhile, some judges across Spain have recently ordered exhumations from cemeteries to confirm whether infants had in fact been buried there. These exhumations have been linked to cases filed by mothers who claim that their newborns were taken away from them immediately after giving birth — officially to undergo further medical checks — and that they were then told that the infant had died.
Ms. Torres recently told the judge investigating her case that she had attempted to get her baby back from Sister Gómez Valbuena, who worked in the maternity ward of the Madrid clinic where she gave birth. But according to Ms. Torres, the nun instead threatened to denounce her for adultery because Pilar was fathered by a man whom she met shortly after separating from her husband.
We know that Canada, Australia and Ireland had inquiries into the practices of Catholics and other churches who sold babies for profit. Spain is the latest on the list... Trace