In Granada, Spain, the worst sexual abuse scandal Pope Francis faces

GRANADA, Spain — David Ramírez Castillo first met his parish priest, the Rev. Román Martínez, as a 7-year-old catechism student. Later, he became one of his altar boys. Step by step, Ramírez says, the priest convinced him that to deepen his faith, he should spend more time with him and the other clergy members.

What started as afternoon visits after Mass turned into overnight stays and weekends away in a shared bed, including at the Summit, a private hilltop villa complete with a swimming pool, he says.

There, Ramírez, now 25 and still a Catholic, says he was repeatedly abused by Martínez or made to watch him and others, including several priests, perform sex over three years, starting in 2004 when he was 14. The priests deny the accusations, and a lawyer representing them called the charges “invented.”

Nevertheless, the case, which includes allegations of a sex ring and a cover-up involving as many as 10 priests — accusations supported by one other plaintiff as well as by several witnesses — has become one of the most serious sexual abuse scandals to emerge under Pope Francis.

It has also become a prime example of the more open and assertive approach to the issue of clergy sexual abuse that Francis has taken as he shifts the tone in a Vatican long criticized for neglecting decades of abuses by priests in parishes around the world.

Although the Vatican’s record remains mixed in following up on the numerous sexual abuse cases that precede this one, Ramírez wrote the pope about his claims in August, he said. Just days later, the pope called him, encouraging him to pursue his complaints, and then personally ordered an investigation into the case, demanding complete transparency.