By Kate Snow, Solly Granatstein and Cristina Boado
Sister Maria Gomez Valbuena, a Spanish nun, this week refused to testify in a Madrid court where she is facing charges related to her alleged role in a baby-trafficking network that operated in Spain over several decades in the latter part of the 20th century.
The charges against Valbuena of illegal detention and falsification of public records follow a recent Rock Center investigation of Spain’s “stolen babies” scandal which featured kidnapping allegations against Valbuena.
Valbuena, now in her 80s, is the first person to be charged amid allegations that networks, often consisting of doctors and clerics, stole babies from their mothers and sold them to other families in a practice that began in the 1940s and lasted until the early 1990s. More than a thousand cases have been filed with Spain’s attorney general.
During her court appearance on Thursday, crowds of mothers claiming their newborns were stolen reportedly chanted, “shameless” at the nun. Shortly after refusing to testify, the nun issued a statement denying the allegations. "Under no circumstance have I ever had any knowledge of the separation of a newborn from his or her biological mother under force and threats,” she stated. “It disgusts me to the depths of my being. I consider it inadmissible and unjustifiable."
Maria Luisa Torres, who testified last week and was featured in Rock Center’s report, claims that Valbuena stole her child from her shortly after she gave birth in 1982.
At the time, Torres was the mother of a two-year-old child and separated from her husband when she became pregnant by another man, something unacceptable in the conservative Spanish society of the time.
“My plan was to go ahead with the pregnancy and keep my baby,” Torres told Rock Center’s Kate Snow.
She claims that when she went to deliver her baby girl, she was anesthetized and slept through the whole delivery. When she woke, Torres says, she was told that her baby had died. Refusing to believe this news, Torres says she snuck out of her room and saw the newborn girl sleeping in the nursery. According to Torres, when she demanded her baby, Sister Maria Gomez threatened her.
“She said either you shut up, and don't ask any more questions, or I'll take both your children from you and you'll go to jail,” Torres said. “Blackmail.”
Through associates at the convent where Valbuena resides, the nun declined Rock Center’s repeated requests to take part in an interview in which she could address these allegations.
Torres said that after losing her baby, she felt helpless and like a piece of herself was missing. But this past year, three decades after the birth, Torres read about the campaign of families searching for lost children and began searching for her daughter. Unknown to Torres, the daughter who had been separated from her also had a strong feeling that she was a stolen child.
In 2011, Torres was reunited on a television show with her daughter, Pilar Alcalde.
“I jumped up and hugged her as though I'd known her my whole life. It was beautiful,” Alcalde told Rock Center.
Torres called it “a miracle.”
“I have feelings of happiness because I found her, but above all, feelings of rage and hatred,” she said.
Alcalde’s adoptive parents testified Friday.