Some of these families brought them up as their own children, but others used them as virtual slaves (on occasion, of the sexual kind)
Until I saw my children for the first time (14 years ago and counting) I had taken it as given that nothing was sacred, but at that moment had to correct myself on the spot: children are unmistakably sacred, every last mother’s son and daughter of them. Which was why, in 2013, my ears pricked up unpleasantly when I read about one María Gómez, a nun who had been formally indicted for stealing new-borns from mothers considered ’morally unsuitable’ and passing them on to good ultra-Catholic families. Unfortunately, Sister Gómez popped her pious clogs before she could face charges. The news items about this devout baby-snatcher unanimously hinted that she was merely a cog in a far larger machine that had been put in motion as early as 1938, the year in which Franco’s self-proclaimed Crusade was on the brink of total victory. Only recently has the truth finally emerged, as Magda Casamitjana, an MP in the Catalan parliament, explained recently to the online magazine Esguard. Between 1938 and 1996, she says, no less than 300,000 babies vanished from hospitals all over Spain. The mothers were invariably either single or under-age or prostitutes or anarchists or leftists or separatists or dead (executed in the post-war reprisals). Their babies, as mentioned, were given up for adoption to pro-regime families (probably for a fee). Some of these families brought them up as their own children, but others used them as virtual slaves (on occasion, of the sexual kind). There are reports that some of them were acquired solely to provide organs for the biological children of the adopters. Under the dictatorship, the mothers of these trafficked infants were told by the hospital that their offspring had died from this or that (requests for further information or even proof were turned down flat). After Franco’s death and the cack-handed ’Transition’ that followed, the medical ’explanations’ became more sophisticated and mothers, if they wished, were allowed to see the ’cadaver’ (any dead baby that happened to be in the hospital morgue: it seems that the same corpse was often displayed to different parents). The Catalan government, with Ms Casamitjana in the lead, is now determined to get to the bottom of all this, and is working with an association of mothers whose babies were disappeared, as well as an Observatory for Forced Disappearances of Minors based in a major university in Tarragona. DNA testing has already brought together a handful of stolen children and their biological parents; Casamitjana and her team is drawing up a law that will ensure full support be provided to victims, and that, eventually, those responsible be brought to justice. No small feat, given that many of the key hospital records were destroyed or falsified. Serendipitously, the EU has also appointed a commission to investigate this matter; it visited Madrid at the end of last month, and was especially interested in talking to certain members of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (the board of directors, as it were, of the Spanish Catholic Church). Only if one was hopelessly ingenuous, would one wonder why.