The elderly woman who left Madrid’s courthouse on Thursday morning looked stooped and ghostly, but neither her obvious frailty nor the plain blue habit she wore kept the small crowd of onlookers from screaming at her. “Shameless!” one woman shouted. “How could you cause so much suffering?”
Thursday was supposed to be the day that began to bring resolution to those who believe themselves victims of decades of baby robbing in Spain. The nun called to testify, Sor María Gómez Valbuena, is the first person indicted for her alleged involvement in a scheme which supposedly saw thousands of newborns taken from their mothers and sold to adoptive parents. But once in front of the judge, Gómez exercised her right to remain silent. And later that day at a meeting with representatives of victims’ associations, Spanish government officials admitted that, although they would dedicate administrative resources to attempting to reunite mothers and children, the chances for bringing to justice those who had separated the families were slim.
Some 1,500 accusations of baby stealing, dating from the late 1950s until mid-1980s, have been filed in Spain in the past year or two. Most follow the same chilling narrative: a single mother or a married woman who already had several children gave birth to an apparently healthy child, but was soon told — often by a nun who worked as a nurse — that the baby had died. Although the adoptive parents frequently paid significant amounts of money for their child, ideology more than greed appears to have been behind the thefts. “These are nuns and priests who strongly believed that the child would be better off with a more traditional or more ‘moral,’ family,” explains journalist Natalia Junquera, who has led the newspaper El País’s investigation of the thefts. “They honestly thought they were doing the right thing.”