The Catalan branch of the Piarist Order of the Roman Catholic church - known as the Escola Pia in Catalonia - has finally recognized 25 years of sexual abuse of minors committed by a priest of the order, Manel Sales, when he was working as a missionary in Senegal. The abuses took place between the years 1980 and 2005 and both students at the Piarist schools and the local people in the African country were aware of these abuses. However, due to a "cultural issue" as well as the fact that in Senegal homosexuality is illegal and punishable by prison sentences, no one has denounced the crimes for all this time.
It wasn't until 2005, after more than two decades of abuse by Manel Sales, when a group of Catalan women became aware of the abuse and decided to report the case to the Escola Pia. The institution's response was to bring the abuser back to Catalonia, where he continued as rector, provincial secretary and member of the Presbyteral Council of the Archdiocese of Barcelona. Sales was kept apart from activities involving minors and received psychiatric treatment, but he was not denounced "with the argument of protecting the institution".
Escola Pia recognizes the facts and apologises
Now, almost two decades after the abuses, the Escola Pia in Catalonia has publicly acknowledged the abuses by Manel Sales and "takes responsibility for everything it did wrong in the past". The institution acknowledges that when it became aware of the facts, in 2005, the correct measures were not taken, nor was it denounced by civil or ecclesiastical means, because the image of the religious institution was prioritized. "The people who tried to report the facts were not attended to, the facts were not followed up to support the victims and no apologies were made", they admit.
For this reason, they now ask for forgiveness for the damage caused by the Piarist school and for those responsible for the order who did not report the abuses in Senegal and Catalonia. They also express their "absolute indignation, rejection and repulsion" for the sexual abuse of minors. The case has been transferred to the public prosecutors again as well as to the ecclesiastical authorities and the new leader of this Piarist branch has travelled to Senegal to contact the victims and offer them help from the order.
The abuser was expelled in 2019
For his part, Manel Sales was expelled from the order and from the priesthood in March 2019, after the case was reactivated in 2018 following a complaint from a French citizen. At that time, Sales acknowledged the facts and mentioned some of his victims. It was then that the Escola Pia contacted the authorities in Senegal and the religious authorities in Rome, who initiated the expulsion process. In February 2023, a commission for the defence of sexually abused minors was created in the Catholic Church in Senegal to hear testimonies and make the abuses public.