There is a new scandal which is slowly coming to light here in Spain. Last year, there were a few stories in the press on the subject; now, there is a flood, with newspaper and TV reports appearing daily. Today, it reached the Fiscal General (Attorney General)’s office, so it is making headlines nationally and internationally.
It is about stolen babies. If that sounds a little melodramatic, it’s because it is. It is a shocking, brutal and frankly terrifying story which will (yet again) shake the Catholic church to its roots. Yet again, it’s about people who’ve dedicated their lives to their faith – this time women, nuns – being involved in wholesale exploitation, moral and financial, to a horrifying degree.
From the 1940s, when Franco was dictator, until the 1980s, healthy babies were taken away from their mothers, who were told they had died, and were given false death certificates, or none at all. The babies were then sold to childless couples, with the collusion of the doctors at the hospital, and nuns from nearby orphanages, who often worked as nurses in the clinics. It was these nuns who found the couples wanting to buy babies, and it was also they who broke the “news” to the new mothers that their babies had “died”, when in fact they’d been swapped for cash. The adoptive parents were given fake birth certificates, listing them as the babies’ natural parents.
Some of the mothers who were told to leave their babies in the clinic because they were “sick”, went back later to collect them, to be told that there was no record of them giving birth at that clinic, nor of their baby. It was as if they had never given birth at all, and the baby had never existed. Sinister in the extreme.
It is alleged that there are around 250,000 to 300,000 children who were illegally adopted in this way, mostly now aged in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Many want to retrace their birth parents and siblings, while mothers are starting to question their newborn who died so suddenly and mysteriously (most were never allowed to see the body, though some some were shown a dead baby which was kept in a freezer, and brought out repeatedly). The whole truth is only just coming to light. The practice started under Franco in the 1940s, taking babies away from Republican parents, to “root out the Marxists”.
The Catholic church, which is still a powerful institution here in Spain, and the medical professionals involved, obviously aren’t too keen on it reaching the public domain, which would explain it hasn’t been in the news that much until now. Apparently, the people who want to trace their parents are finding it difficult due to lack of cooperation from the church, who hold all birth records.
An organisation has been formed, ANADIR (Asociacion Nacional de Afectados de Adopciones Irregulares), which is receiving several queries every day from people who suspect they are one of these stolen babies. There are cases here in Andalucia, namely in Cadiz, Malaga, Seville and Huelva, and also all over Spain: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencina, Tarragona, Pamplona, Alicante, Murcia, Zaragoza, Bilbao and Burgos. Basically, it is likely to affect every province in Spain. The Fiscal General is looking into 261 cases, and will open criminal investigations where relevant, in other words if it can be proved that a crime was committed.
The price of the babies was between 50,000 (in the 1940s – around 300 euros) and 500,000 pesetas (3,000 euros). The “adoptive” parents didn’t know the babies were stolen.
I am sure that those “bereaved” mothers, who never saw their newborn babies again, have not forgotten about them for one single day. But what about the doctors and nuns who organised all the “adoptions”? They were helping childless couples – always a laudable gesture – but by taking a child away from its natural mother. Do they regret their actions? Did they realise they were doing something utterly heinous? Or did the nuns, not being mothers themselves, have no sense whatsoever of the trauma they were causing?
Nothing can possibly justify what they did, and how anyone could ever rectify misdeeds on such a phenomenal scale – tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of now-adults robbed of their identity and family – is beyond comprehension. Spain will be mired in this particular scandal for some years to come.