To Go Around the Long Way

The co-worker I refer to as My Cellmate and I go for walks every day around lunchtime. She sits right on the other side of the cubicle wall, so close I can tell by her Mmm Hmm whether or not her daughter made the doctor appointment. My Cellmate is from a hamlet across the river but local enough that it’s strange she doesn’t know her way around town.

Yesterday, we walked out of the library and across the street, then on to one of the city’s main drags, where we turn and headed toward the park. She pointed across the street.

MC: Is that St. Peter’s Hospital?
Tata: It is.
MC: I was born there! It didn’t look like this then. You can hardly see the old buildings.
Tata: There were three houses in pastel colors they tore down to make room for the new wings. We lived in one of them. My mother walked next door to have my sister Daria.
MC: Do they do abortions here?

I sit next to this woman five days a week and I thought That question could go either way.

Tata: It’s a Catholic hospital. For an abortion, you would go to the other hospital up the street.

I did not say Or that office three blocks up, where I got mine. My Cellmate is not churched-up by any means anymore, but she went to Catholic schools, asks questions about the Catholic high school Dad attended and knows well the church on Somerset Street. Her question could mean a number of things and I gently closed the door on all of them. Unless someone comes at me directly, I’m not going to fight this out in my office. This, however, should be dragged right to the front door of St. Peter’s Basilica.

After months of requests from the BBC, the Spanish government finally put forward Angel Nunez from the justice ministry to talk to me about Spain’s stolen children.

Asked if babies were stolen, Mr Nunez replied: “Without a doubt”.

“How many?” I asked.

“I don’t dare to come up with figures,” he answered carefully. “But from the volume of official investigations I dare to say there were many.”

Lawyers believe that up to 300,000 babies were taken.

The practice of removing children from parents deemed “undesirable” and placing them with “approved” families, began in the 1930s under the dictator General Francisco Franco.

At that time, the motivation may have been ideological. But years later, it seemed to change – babies began to be taken from parents considered morally – or economically – deficient. It became a money-spinner, too.

The scandal is closely linked to the Catholic Church, which under Franco assumed a prominent role in Spain’s social services including hospitals, schools and children’s homes.

Nuns and priests compiled waiting lists of would-be adoptive parents, while doctors were said to have lied to mothers about the fate of their children.

Yes. You read that right. Imagine living this nightmare:

In 1971 Manoli, who was 23 at the time and not long married, gave birth to what she was told was a healthy baby boy, but he was immediately taken away for what were called routine tests.

Nine interminable hours passed. “Then, a nun, who was also a nurse, coldly informed me that my baby had died,” she says.

They would not let her have her son’s body, nor would they tell her when the funeral would be.

Did she not think to question the hospital staff?

“Doctors, nuns?” she says, almost in horror. “I couldn’t accuse them of lying. This was Franco’s Spain. A dictatorship. Even now we Spaniards tend not to question authority.”

The scale of the baby trafficking was unknown until this year, when two men – Antonio Barroso and Juan Luis Moreno, childhood friends from a seaside town near Barcelona – discovered that they had been bought from a nun. Their parents weren’t their real parents, and their life had been built on a lie.

Juan Luis Moreno discovered the truth when the man he had been brought to call “father” was on his deathbed.
Antonio Barroso and Juan Luis Moreno Antonio Barroso and Juan Luis Moreno took their story to the papers – and opened the floodgates

“He said, ‘I bought you from a priest in Zaragoza’. He said that Antonio had been bought as well.”

The pair were hurt and angry. They say they felt like two dogs that had been bought at a pet shop. An adoption lawyer they turned to for advice said he came across cases like theirs all the time.

How can justice include the church in Spain going on in peace – again?

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