Belgian Police in Hot Pursuit of Church Child Sex Cover-Up
Agence France Presse
January 18, 2012
Belgian magistrates have re-launched a high-profile probe into child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, this time seeking to show the Church hierarchy engaged in a cover-up.
Federal police pounced Wednesday on "personal files" held by senior Church figures in the dioceses of Liege, Namur and Tournai after hitting Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Hasselt and Mechelen since Monday.
The seizures are based on testimony from some 200 alleged victims and in 87 judicial complaints.
Federal magistrate and spokeswoman for national prosecutors Lieve Pellens said the purpose of this new "key phase" in a Belgian investigation is different from that of dramatic June 2010 raids on Church headquarters that angered Pope Benedict XVI.
Truckloads of evidence gathered then has been ruled inadmissible by Belgian courts following Church challenges over police methods, but now magistrate Wim De Troy is focusing on a search for proof of "culpable negligence" by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
After similar scandals in the United States, Ireland and Germany, Belgium was rocked in April 2010 with revelations that the then bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had abused a nephew for 13 years.
Forced to resign over the scandal, he was subsequently placed in seclusion in a French abbey but vanished from view last year after rendering the Vatican "stupefied" when he went on television to announce he had also abused a second family member.
According to Dutch-language daily De Standaard, magistrates are focused on Vangheluwe's case.
He cannot be charged with abuse because the acts he has admitted to carrying out on his nephews go too far back under Belgian prosecution law.
However, the newspaper has reported that until recently Vangheluwe protected priests in his diocese from similar allegations, sending money to one victim and threatening "consequences" if the pay-off came out. In this instance, it was a question of a female allegedly abused from the age of 16.
Vangheluwe's case opened a floodgate, with a Church-backed report more than a year ago revealing almost 500 cases of alleged abuse of boys, girls and adults in Catholic institutions since the 1950s, including 13 known suicides by victims.
The Belgian Roman Catholic Church sought to turn the page last week by saying new confidential channels for victims would result in all cases of sexual abuse being transferred systematically to judicial authorities.
In December last year, the Church also committed to providing compensation of between 2,500 euros ($3,200) and 25,000 euros to victims for whom the legal deadline for prosecution of aggressors has expired.
Church lawyer Fernand Keuleneer has queried the sense of these latest investigations, arguing that there is "no longer any doubt" that the Church is cooperating on the issue.
In an interview with a French-language daily, La Libre Belgique, the lawyer said the Church has "clearly admitted" that past systems were "neither appropriate nor effective" to fight against sexual abuse.
However, he also argued: "It is another thing to want to show that there was non-assistance to persons in danger."
But Christine Mussche, a lawyer for around 100 alleged victims, told AFP that the new police probes are "absolutely necessary." She alleged the Church has "done everything to try to halt De Troy's probe."