Priest Sex Abuse Investigation Going Ahead in Belgium Despite Illegal Raid

Politics Daily
September 10, 2010

Even though a June raid of Catholic Church offices in Belgium has been ruled illegal, the government says an investigation of a sex abuse scandal involving priests can go forward.

At the same time, an independent Belgian commission looking into charges of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy says it has received testimony from hundreds of victims and that witnesses say widespread abuse over decades led to at least 13 suicides.

The commission, known as the Adriaenssens Commission after its chairman, Peter Adriaenssens, disbanded after the June 24 raid because authorities also seized the commission's files. But Adriaenssens said Friday that 488 witnesses came forward during the time the commission was in operation, most of them after the April resignation of a bishop for sexual abuse set off a deep crisis within the Belgian church.

The Adriaenssens report lists in great detail how victims say they were abused by clergy, and lists one witness as saying it started as young as age 2.

Like Belgian church leaders, the commission's members were upset with the raid because they had promised abuse victims confidentiality in an effort to get as many as possible to come forward.

The June 24 raid, code-named Operation Chalice, resulted in the seizure of hundreds of case files. Authorities used power tools to pry open a prelate's crypt for evidence in Mechlin's St. Rumbold Cathedral. An appeals court called the actions excessive, but that won't stop the investigation into allegations of sex abuse involving clergy, the Associated Press reported.

The ruling on the raids "was a signal to say, 'Yes, continue, but in a correct way,' " Justice Minister Stephan De Clerck told VRT network. "It was not a signal to say, 'Stop the whole inquiry.' "

Next week, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard is expected to announce a new plan for dealing with the abuse and helping victims of it get closure. Leonard welcomed the legal ruling on the raid, but said he supports the on-going inquiry as long as it's done by the rules.

His predecessor, Cardinal Godfried Danneels (pictured), acknowledged earlier this week that damage control often took precedence over concern for victims. Danneels said he should have immediately demanded the resignation of Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted to sexually abusing a nephew for years while he was a priest and bishop. The crisis worsened when secret tapes were published of Danneels allegedly suggesting a coverup to the victim.


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