A Catholic nun has been charged with being part of a child stealing operation that ran over four decades in Spain. Sister María Gómez Valbuena is the first person to be indicted in connection with the probe into more than 100 cases of babies snatched from hospitals between the 1950s and 1980s. She was subpoenaed to testify before investigators recently but refused to answer questions, according to sources at the Madrid prosecutor's office. Identity crisis: Randy Ryder as a baby being cradled in a Malaga hospital in 1971 by the woman who bought him Her name has surfaced in dozens of complaints filed by mothers who claim they were robbed of their babies after giving birth at San Ramón and Santa Cristina hospitals in Madrid. Sister María was the assistant to Dr Eduardo Vela Vela, whose name also appears in the complaints filed by mothers. Prosecutors have decided that there is sufficient evidence to file charges against Sister María in one case, based on a woman's testimony that her daughter was taken from her in 1982 after she gave birth at the Santa Cristina Hospital. More... The doctor who broke up families: Psychiatrist who damned hundreds as 'unfit parents' faces GMC probe Is legend of St Patrick just a bit of blarney? He was a runaway tax collector turned slave trader, says expert The woman, identified as María Luisa, states that she was told that her baby had died at birth but claims she was actually given to another family. Shortly after giving birth, María Luisa saw an ad published in a magazine taken out by a nun — Sister María Gómez Valbuena — who offered her services to help single mothers. María Luisa was separated at the time and had another daughter. When she went to see her, María Luisa discovered that the nun was actually offering to take her daughter away to give to a family. Reunited: Randy Ryder with Manoli Pagador, who believes she may be his real mother The children were trafficked by a secret network of doctors, nurses, priests and nuns in a widespread practice that began during General Franco’s dictatorship and continued until the early Nineties. Hundreds of families who had babies taken from Spanish hospitals are now battling for an official government investigation into the scandal. Several mothers say they were told their first-born children had died during or soon after they gave birth. But the women, often young and unmarried, were told they could not see the body of the infant or attend their burial. In reality, the babies were sold to childless couples whose devout beliefs and financial security meant that they were seen as more appropriate parents. Official documents were forged so the adoptive parents’ names were on the infants’ birth certificates. In many cases it is believed they were unaware that the child they received had been stolen, as they were usually told the birth mother had given them up. Experts believe the cases may account for up to 15 per cent of the total adoptions that took place in Spain between 1960 and 1989. It began as a system for taking children away from families deemed politically dangerous to the regime of General Franco, which began in 1939. The system continued after the dictator’s death in 1975 as the Catholic church continued to retain a powerful influence on public life, particularly in social services. It was not until 1987 that the Spanish government, instead of hospitals, began to regulate adoptions. The scandal came to light after two men, Antonio Barroso and Juan Luis Moreno, discovered they had been stolen as babies. Mr Moreno’s ‘father’ confessed on his deathbed to having bought him as a baby from a priest in Zaragoza in northern Spain. He told his son he had been accompanied on the trip by Mr Barroso’s parents, who bought Antonio at the same time for 200,000 pesetas – a huge sum at the time. DNA tests have proved that the couple who brought up Mr Barroso were not his biological parents and the nun who sold him has admitted to doing so. When the pair made their case public, it prompted mothers all over the country to come forward with their own experiences of being told their babies had died, but never believing it. One such woman was Manoli Pagador, who has begun searching for her son. A BBC documentary, This World: Spain’s Stolen Babies, followed her efforts to discover if he is Randy Ryder, a stolen baby who was brought up in Texas and is now aged 40. In some cases, babies’ graves have been exhumed, revealing bones that belong to adults or animals. Some of the graves contained nothing at all.