Spain's justice minister has asked the country's Catholic Church leaders to hand over all the information they possess about internal investigations or proceedings related to sexual abuse allegations at church institutions.

The Justice Ministry says in a statement that the request sent by letter Thursday reflects a need to move forward with any criminal proceedings as well as to throw a light on "deeds our society can no longer remain quiet about."

The Spanish Episcopal Conference replied that it has already provided information about known cases to the Vatican and Spanish judicial authorities, as required by law.

It also expressed "sincere concern" for the victims of "a serious problem which affects the whole of society."

Only a handful of church-linked sexual abuse cases have emerged in Spain.