Society 11/02/2021

Priest in charge of the diocesan archives in Tarragona accused of sexual abuse

Events took place 20 years ago and archbishopric has now taken the case to the Prosecutor's Office and will take it to the Vatican

4 min
Arquebisbat Tarragona . Silvia Jardí / ACN

Barcelona"What is the Church hiding?" father Manuel Fuentes, canon archivist of the cathedral of Tarragona and director of the historical archdiocesan archives of Tarragona, was asked in an interview on TV3. The archives and libraries discover "some secrets" and allow to prove that "others are not" in these places, he answered. Fuentes was in charge of guarding the secrets of the Church of Tarragona. Today, his own secret, which he had been hiding for more than two decades, has also been revealed.

The archbishopric of Tarragona has taken this morning to the Prosecutor's Office the alleged sexual abuse that Fuentes committed twenty years ago. After completing the internal report that has been carried out during the last month and a half, the case will be sent to the Vatican, which is already aware of the matter, in the coming days. On Wednesday, the head of the abuse office spoke with the priest, who acknowledged some of the events.

Case reopened 20 years later

David, one of the victims, received a call in mid-December. The caller knew what Fuentes had done to him 20 years ago, and was calling to announce that there was a second case. This made him decide. The moment had arrived after a long time thinking about the idea.

The priest took advantage of the good relationship he had with David's family, who were regulars at the parish of Sant Joan Baptista de Reus, where Fuentes was the vicar. It all started in April 2000, when the boy was 17 years old and they invited the priest, a renowned historian, to the presentation of a magazine to give a talk. That day the man declined to stay overnight at the family home, but encouraged David to visit him at the monastery of Santes Creus, where he was rector. That autumn he did, just turned 18. They chatted, had dinner and when they went to sleep the boy saw that there was only one bed. Besides, they were alone. Everything was very well prepared. "I was trapped. He started to touch me, I said no and he masturbated next to me. It was unpleasant, it took forever, I just wanted to leave because I was so afraid that he could do anything," he says now, firm and serene. The next morning they both tried to act naturally, but on the way back Fuentes tried to make the boy feel "guilty" by playing on his fear. "After what I've done to you, if you want, I'll kill myself," he even told him in reference to what had happened during the night while driving on a winding road. He also told him not to say anything to the family.

When he finally told his parents, after explaining it to his partner and a friend, they spoke first to the Reus parish priest and then to the archbishopric. They even met with the then Archbishop Lluís Martínez Sistach. Their heart sank. Martínez Sistach's message was "Let us pray". Fuentes continued to hold the post of director of the Archdiocesan Historical Archive and in 2005 he was appointed canon archivist of the cathedral.

The case was covered up. Until, 20 years later, the archbishopric received a visit from a man who reported a case of abuse of a minor also about two decades ago. No formal complaint was made, but the facts were brought to the attention of the archbishopric. The pattern repeated itself. Fuentes took advantage of the trust that the parents had placed in him. And the response of the then archbishop was the same as the one received by David's family: pray and move forward.

A very different response from the one given by the current archbishop, Joan Planellas. On January 4 there was a meeting, the internal protocol was activated quickly and a search was made to see if the case was documented: nothing was found. The message given to ARA by archbishopric sources when they were informed that the newspaper was investigating Fuentes' abuses was clear: "We want to do it properly and not to accuse of neither more nor less. We are aware of our responsibilities, when the report is finished it will be sent to the Prosecutor's Office and to the Holy See". A response that David, who for years had to live with the silence imposed by the previous archbishop, is grateful for. "I'm fine, although from time to time it comes back to my memory", he sums up, aware that what has happened in the last two months has allowed him to face what happened twenty years ago. The events of Santes Creus changed his relationship with the Church and for a time marked his character and his way of relating to it.

Apart from being in charge of the archives, Fuentes was rector of villages such as Valldossera, Querol and Esblada, and since 2018 he has been the priest in Selva del Camp, Almoster and l'Albiol. The archbishopric has provisionally removed him from his functions. Although the case has made its way to the Prosecutor's Office, the offences have prescribed; nevertheless, the prosecutor has said he will study it. Archbishop Planellas has issued a statement in which he calls for respect for "the presumption of innocence until proven guilty" and at the same time "condemns sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience". Likewise, he has asked that if there are more people affected by these "execrable acts" to report it

If you have information about cases of sexual abuse you can contact ARA's research team here.

stats