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Did a Spanish nun steal thousands of newborns?

A mother and her long-lost daughter are reunited after 30 years, and the child's alleged abductor, a nun, goes on trial.

Spain stolen babies siser maria nun 2012 04 02Enlarge
Thousands of Spanish mothers have similar stories of stolen children. (AFP/Getty Images) (ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

BARCELONA, Spain — "Where is my baby?" Luisa Torres wondered after waking up from general anesthesia on March 31, 1982.

"Your baby is dead," Sister Maria Gómez Valbuena told her as she lay in bed at the Santa Cristina Maternity Hospital in Madrid. “You gave birth to nothing,” the nun said.

It was a lie, with consequences that would span almost three decades.

Torres alleges that her daughter was stolen at birth by a mafia of nuns, doctors and other officials who sold children for profit.

Thousands of Spanish mothers recount similar stories. Enrique Vila, a Barcelona lawyer who specializes in adoptions, estimates there might be as many as 300,000 cases, about 15 percent of total adoptions that took place in Spain between 1960 and 1989.

Since GlobalPost first wrote about the spate of stolen babies last year, the number of cases being handled by Spanish prosecutors has jumped from 900 to 1,500.

Read more: Spain's stolen baby scandal

A trickle of complaints began decades ago, but turned into a flood two years ago. But the nun, now in her 80s and known as Sister Maria, is the first to be indicted in the scandal since complaints began to pour in two years ago. Her trial begins today, April 3.

About one-quarter of the cases have been dismissed due to a lack of documents or other evidence, which is often hard to provide when decades-old birth certificates have been forged, or when the parents and children haven't yet found each other.

Torres and her daughter are just one of a dozen who have, and it is their reunion that has led to the first indictment.

'Like a horror film'

Like hundreds of mothers who believe their babies had been stolen at Santa Cristina Maternity Hospital, Torres met Sister Maria, a social worker, in her fifth month of pregnancy after seeing an ad in a magazine offering help for expectant mothers in need.

“It said she had access to nurseries and foster homes, and that she would take care of the children until we had enough resources to take care of them by ourselves,” Torres recalled. “I went to see her with my mom and she was very nice — we didn't suspect anything.” She said she was given a “special card” to show at the hospital when going into labor.

But it became "like a horror film,” she added.

After first saying that the baby girl was dead, Sister Maria changed her story, Torres said. The nun admitted that the child was alive, and told the 24-year-old woman that she would give the child up for adoption to a French family. She implied that Torres, who had given birth out of wedlock, would be an unfit mother.

And she told Torres, who wanted to name her child Sheila, that such a name was not "Christian," and that the baby girl would be called Maria, “after herself.”

Torres said she became increasingly hysterical, and began cursing at the nun. She climbed from her bed and stumbled to the neo-natal unit. There, one girl lay in an incubator with a name tag on her crib: Maria.

Read more: Russia prosecutes a dead man

“You saw nothing," the nun told her. Sister Maria dragged Torres back to her room and threw her onto her bed, Torres said. "I will report you to the authorities as an adulteress and you will go to jail. Then I will also take away your 2-year-old daughter,” said Sister Maria, according to Torres.

Torres says she was terrified. Inés, her first child, was the result of a failed marriage. Separated from her husband, she started a new relationship, but that man left her once she became pregnant. In a country that was still waking up from a 40-year dictatorship and was extremely socially conservative, Torres didn't know that anti-adultery laws had already been repealed in 1978.

Her new child had been born slightly premature, at eight months, and had some health problems. The infant was taken to another floor to receive special care, and Torres wasn't allowed to visit her because she had never been officially identified as the child’s mother. She lost track of her baby, and was too afraid to approach Sister Maria again.

A devastated Torres left the hospital nine days later

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/spain/120402/stolen-baby-scandal-spanish-nun-trial