Croatia’s Archbishop of Rijeka, Mate Uzinic, spoke out on Monday regarding the reports and investigations he has conducted over the past two and a half years regarding child abuse accusations.
Through tears, Uzinic described details of cases of sexual violence committed by priests. He said he had initiated the necessary investigations into all the cases he had been made aware of.
Uzinic also said he had reported all the child abuse cases to Croatia’s State Attorney’s Office (DORH), “regardless of whether it [the case] was under a statute of limitations or not.” He said he had also informed the competent Church Dicastery about the results of the investigations.
According to Uzinic, his investigations into illegalities in the Catholic Church resulted in nine cases for prosecutors.
Uzinic said the first case was completed before his arrival, and five related to allegations of abuse of minors. The other cases, he said, related to finances and concubinage.
The first case involved a priest known only as M.S. He was first accused in 2016 of sexually abusing a minor in 1992. M.S. plead guilty, and was dismissed from his post at the Catholic Church.
Later allegations surfaced in 2018, and the case against M.S. was reopened. As part of the investigation, M.S. admitted guilt in several cases, occurring in 1987, 1988 and from 1992 to 1993, as well as another incident possibly in 1994. The assaults involved 13 boys, aged six to 13 years old.
The Croatian weekly media outlet Nacional revealed that the initials M.S. stood for Milan Spehar, former rector of the Catholic Faculty of Theology in Rijeka.
“No one is either guilty or complicit in my crimes. I committed them and I am terribly sorry for the victims of my evil acts,” Nacional cited Spehar as admitted in a written reply to the outlet.
“By being dismissed from the clergy, he is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Rijeka. As far as we know, he currently lives in Italy in a closed Benedictine monastery in prayer and penance. The case was reported to the DORH in Rijeka, but I have no information about the proceedings in this case,” said the Archbishop.
Croatia’s Ombudsperson for Children has expressed concern about the slow pace of resolution of child abuse cases such as these.
“The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children continuously warns of weaknesses in the system of protecting children from this form of violence and calls for their resolution,” Ombudsperson Helenca Pirnat Dragicevic told reporters.
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