Abuse by Church Figures in Belgium Revealed

By Arthur Beesley
Irish Times
September 10, 2010

Dr Peter Adriaenssens: his inquiry found alleged victims of church child abuse in Belgium included a child as young as two and 23 others aged between four and seven.
Photo by Yves Logghe

AN INDEPENDENT inquiry has uncovered a litany of child abuse within the Catholic Church in Belgium over four decades, from the 1950s to the 1980s, with 475 complaints against clergy and church workers and 13 reported suicides among the victims.

A commission led by child psychiatrist Dr Peter Adriaenssens, an expert in the study of paedophilia, found that the alleged victims included a child as young as two and 23 others aged between four and seven. Most of the victims were aged 12 when the abuse started.

The release of the commission’s report yesterday compounds a scandal that has rocked the church in this largely Catholic country since April, when the bishop of Bruges resigned after admitting he sexually abused a nephew.

Tapes released to local newspapers last month revealed how the former head of the church in Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, urged the victim not to make public his complaint against the bishop, Dr Roger Vangheluwe.

The commission reveals that it was inundated with complaints in the immediate aftermath of the bishop’s resignation, triggering one of the church’s worst abuse scandals in Europe.

No less than 215 victims came forward during the final week of April, and another 182 made complaints over four weeks in May.

All of the alleged abusers were male and 95 are dead, but the report said a “relatively large” number of them were still alive.

Although the commission finds no evidence of a systematic church cover-up, it said no congregation escaped sexual abuse of minors by one or several of its members.

The commission said bishops had changed their views since working with it, and apparently failed to realise the implications of past decisions.

Witness testimony set out in the report details how concerns were ignored by senior church figures.

One woman, who recounts how she was abused aged 17 in 1983 by a priest, tried to seek help from a bishop but was not given the opportunity to explain her problem.

“I told him, ‘I have a problem with one of your priests’. “He told me: ‘Ignore him and he will leave you alone’,” her testimony said.

Another victim, also aged 17 when abused in 1983, said the priest in question is now married and is a parent himself.

Dr Adriaenssens said many victims reported problems with their physical and mental health as a result of the abuse, and difficulties in their personal relationships.

He received 13 reports in which the person died by suicide “and this in relation to sexual abuse by a cleric”.

While another six victims reported attempted suicide, the report said that this figure could well prove to be higher following interviews with victims.

The commission’s work was disrupted 10 weeks ago when its files were seized by police investigating sexual abuse within the church.

Dr Adriaenssens halted the commission’s work at that time, alleging prosecutors were using it as bait.

The abuse scandal has sent shockwaves through Belgian society. The lax response of the public authorities to the notorious paedophile Marc Dutroux, who kidnapped and raped six children in the 1990s, is still remembered in the country.


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