MADRID (Reuters) – The Spanish Catholic Church will open an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of hundreds of children by clergy dating back 80, revealed by El Pais newspaper, the daily said on Sunday.

The investigation will examine allegations of abuse against 251 priests and some lay people from religious institutions that the newspaper uncovered, El Pais said.

The newspaper did not publish the full findings of a three-year investigation it conducted into the matter, but said its correspondent handed a 385-page dossier to Pope Francis on December 2 as the papal entourage and journalists flew from Rome to Cyprus. .

The number of victims is at least 1,237 but could number in the thousands, according to the newspaper. The allegations concern 31 religious orders and 31 of some 70 dioceses in the country. The oldest case dates back to 1942 and the most recent to 2018.

The investigation will be carried out by the Spanish Episcopal Conference, led by Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona, ​​according to El Pais.

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Bishops’ conference officials were unavailable for comment on Sunday.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement that the Pope had received the documentation and forwarded it to “competent bodies so that it can proceed in accordance with current Church law.”

It was an apparent reference to the Spanish Bishops’ Conference and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates sexual abuse.

Under current Church law, Spanish bishops should notify civil authorities of suspected cases of abuse.

In November, Pope Francis, who met dozens of abuse victims, thanked reporters for helping uncover the religious abuse scandals.

(Reporting by Jessica Jones Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome Editing by Frances Kerry)

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