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MÁLAGA, Spain (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Málaga is eulogizing a priest who secretly fathered five children, abused three of his daughters and is facing accusations of sexual abuse from female students at a high school.
Father Antonio Muñoz Rivero, honorary chaplain to Pope John Paul II, has received glowing tributes from diocesan authorities, despite being included in an October report by an independent commission accusing Spanish clergy of abusing more than 200,000 minors since 1940.
At least three bishops covered up for Rivero, who faced no sanctions for breaking his promise of celibacy, cohabitating with a woman and sexually abusing his daughters and minor female students while in ministry. He died in September at the age of 97.
Instead, in an obituary published on the diocese's website, Fr. Francisco González Gómez, diocesan delegate for the clergy, cited a testimony describing how "there is no shortage of authorities who express their gratitude" to the priest who "is loved by his parishioners."
Father González also commended the deceased abuser priest for the "recognition he received for a life dedicated to the apostolic mission" when he went to the Vatican to be named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II.
Spanish newspaper El Pais, however, uncovered a 1987 investigative report titled "The Priest's Large Family," published in Interviú, that cataloged Fr. Muñoz's scandals and the diocesan cover-up of his concubinage and sexual abuse.
El Pais reported that after the priest was accused of sexual abuse, Msgr. Ramón Buxarrais, bishop of Málaga from 1973 to 1991, sent Fr. Muñoz to Venezuela as a missionary, where he served until 2002. The diocese refused to reveal if the priest was disciplined for his actions.
Muñoz's mistress, who denounced him for not recognizing the paternity of her children, claimed that the bishopric knew of her situation and provided her for seven years with a pension of 3,000 pesetas, which was later raised to 8,000 pesetas.
Known by locals as "Pepita la del cura" ("the priest's nugget"), the mother of the priest's five children said that she first met Fr. Muñoz in Campanillas in 1956, where he was posted.
According to Pepita, the priest became infatuated with her, telling her that he would leave the Church to marry her. At the time, Fr. Muñoz was 30 years old, and she was 19 — a minor according to the laws of the time.
The priest, she says, forged her baptismal certificate, raising her age by three years, and got her a false identification document.
In 1958, a cabal of rich parishioners kicked Fr. Muñoz out of town. "They reported to the bishopric that the priest had hit a boy for not paying at the cinema he ran and that he also flirted with all the girls he could," Pepita testified.
The bishop transferred the priest to Antequera to serve as chaplain of the hospital and cemetery. Muñoz took Pepita with him and fathered more children in his new chaplaincy. He also bought a plot of land and built a house for them.
When the priest abandoned her, Pepita turned to Bp. Emilio Benavent, who promised her "help and punishment for the guilty."
"The bishop told me that they already knew everything and that although I had rejected the initial help, they were going to pay me 3,000 pesetas a month to support my children. That same afternoon, Sr. Agustina showed up at my house with 3,000 pesetas, and she came every month for seven years," Pepita recounted.
Three successive bishops, Emilio Benavent, Ángel Suquía and Ramón Buxarrais, continued to support Pepita and her children with a pension from the diocese, she maintained.
It was during this period that the priest abused his three daughters, as they testified in the Interviú report. In 1968, the priest was sent to Venezuela for the first time and was assigned to a parish in Ospino, in the state of Portuguesa, and then to El Sombrero, Guárico.
When Fr. Muñoz returned to the priestly ministry in Málaga in 1984 after spending 16 years in Venezuela, his family discovered that he had returned and reported him for not recognizing the paternity of his children.
The priest was appointed to multiple parishes and school chaplaincies and began teaching religion at the Europa school in Puertosol, where he was accused of abusing three students.
The diocese of Málaga sent the abuser priest back to Venezuela in 1988 for a second stint, where he spent 14 years before retiring back to Spain.
In June, a victim from the school, identified only as "BM," complained to the current bishop of Málaga. BM said that she went to the diocesan chancery in July, but they refused to offer any information.
"They just wanted to know how much I knew, and then they never contacted me again. Not an apology, not an explanation, nothing. The bishopric is very irresponsible," she told El Pais.
BM also accused the school of a cover-up, remarking, "They never asked us girls; they didn't worry about whether we had also suffered abuse. Knowing that we had it in there. They just prohibited us from talking about it."
The diocese of Málaga did not respond to requests for comment from Church Militant. "The Catholic Church's protocol has been carried out by the diocese of Málaga," a diocesan spokesperson told El Pais.
In 2019, Fr. Muñoz was asked in an interview what was the worst sin he had to deal with. The priest replied, "Thank God I have not caused any scandal, nor have I failed in my priesthood."
In September, Church Militant reported on another priest, Fr. Francisco Javier Cuenca Villalba, who was arrested by Spanish police for sedating, raping and filming five women.
Police began investigating the 34-year-old priest, the son of a former Poor Clare cloistered nun, after his live-in lover reported him to the Family and Women's Services Unit in Melilla, a Spanish autonomous city located on the eastern coast of Morocco.
Diocesan officials said the priest was transferred from his parish in Melilla, where he was cohabiting with his concubine, to the two parishes in the mountains of the Sierra de las Nieves because "he renounced his romantic relationship and committed himself to his priesthood."
The diocese maintained that it was "unaware of the existence of sexual videos" in which Fr. Cuenca recorded his sexual assaults. However, the priest's lover insisted that she had delivered the recordings on a hard drive to diocesan authorities in January.
In October, Spain's bishops apologized to victims of clerical sexual abuse but questioned the accuracy of the report that estimated the abuse of more than 200,000 minors by Catholic priests.
The results of the survey found that 0.6 % of Spain's adult population of about 39 million people (around 1 in 200 Spaniards) said they were abused by priests when they were children.