In an about-face, the Spanish bishops' conference announced that it has hired a law firm to conduct a yearlong investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the country.

At a news conference in Madrid Feb. 24, Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcelona, president of the Spanish bishops' conference, said the conference hired the law offices of Cremades and Calvo-Sotelo "to carry out an independent investigation that will audit" the church's handling of abuse cases.

"The Spanish bishops' conference wants to take a step forward in its obligation of social transparency, of help and reparation to victims, and of collaboration with authorities regarding the cases of sexual abuse within the Spanish church," Cardinal Omella told journalists.

In January, Cardinal Omella, who was in Rome with several bishops for their "ad limina" visits, told journalists that the bishops' conference had no plans to establish a single independent commission as in Germany, France or neighboring Portugal to conduct a nationwide investigation of the handling of cases past and present.

Instead, he said, individual dioceses would have their own independent commissions so that survivors can easily report to their local diocese. He also told journalists in Rome that the Vatican supported their plan.

But there was growing public support for the government to step in and investigate.

In mid-December, the Spanish newspaper El País said it conducted a three-year investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Spain and uncovered 251 unpublished cases of abuse dating back 80 years.

Furthermore, El País said its investigation, which began in 2018, revealed an estimated 1,246 victims of abuse in the Catholic Church.

The Spanish parliament agreed Feb. 1 to review a proposal by several political parties that called for the establishment of commission to investigate sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church.

The proposal could lead to a vote to form a government-led commission to investigate the church's handling of abuse allegations.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced Feb. 8 that should the vote pass, the country's ombudsman -- Ángel Gabilondo -- would lead the government's investigation.

Javier Cremades, the head of the law firm hired by the Spanish bishops' conference, told journalists he has contacted Gabilondo and that the investigation will be similar to independent inquiries commissioned by the Catholic Church in Germany and France.

However, he said, it will also incorporate "the work done so far by the individual Spanish dioceses."