MADRID - A Spanish judge charged 10 Catholic priests with committing or abetting sexual abuse of a teenage altar boy, court papers showed Wednesday, in a case Pope Francis helped bring to light.
Judge Antonio Moreno formally accused 10 priests and two lay people in the southern city of Granada of sexual abuse or complicity in the abuse of the boy from 2004 to 2007.
In terms of the number of suspects, it is the biggest ever paedophilia case to hit the Catholic Church in Spain.
Their accuser, now aged 25, says he was raped and made to perform sex acts with one of the priests at a villa with a swimming pool. Others allegedly took part or tolerated the acts.
The main abuser told the victim had a promising career as a priest ahead of him and chided him for resisting, according to the ruling.
Pope Francis has said he ordered a church investigation after the unidentified man wrote telling him of how he had been molested when he was an altar boy.
The Argentine pontiff told reporters on November 25 that he heard of the case "with great pain, very great pain, but the truth is the truth and we should not hide it."
The ruling detailed allegations of "continuous sexual abuse by a group of priests of the diocese of Granada, from 2004 when he (the victim) was 14 to 2007 when he was 17."
A second man aged 44 has also accused one of the priests of abuse in the early 1990s, according to the ruling.
The judge called for a legal opinion on whether the alleged crimes were subject to the statute of limitations, under which the case could be dismissed if the acts are judged to have taken place too long ago.
The Archbishop of Granada Francisco Javier Martinez and six priests prostrated themselves on the floor of the city's cathedral in front of the altar during a mass in November in a gesture of apology to victims of abuse.
A victims' support group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on the pope to fire Martinez, in a statement on Wednesday reacting to the ruling.
Pope Francis has taken a zero-tolerance approach to clerical child abuse since taking over in 2013 from Benedict XVI.