Bishop: Child Abuse Is Societal

By Alvise Armellini
News 24
September 13, 2010

Brussels - The hundreds of child sex abuse cases detailed in a report last week "should never, never have happened", the head of the Belgian Roman Catholic Church, Andre Leonard, said on Monday in his first public statement since the document was published.

On Friday child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens, who said the committee of the Belgian Catholic Church had asked him to look into allegations of abuse committed on children by priests, had collected details of almost 500 cases, including victims as young as 2 years old.

"The report confronted us with something that should never, never have happened," Leonard said in a news conference, stressing that the church wished to "draw the lessons from past errors".

Adriaenssens' revelations are causing a furore in Belgium, drawing comparisons with the case of Marc Dutroux, a serial paedophile child murderer from the 1990s who is serving a life sentence.

But the prelate dealing with child abuse cases, Bishop of Tournai Guy Harpigny, seemed to play down church responsibility, claiming such cases are "part of society".

"Hence, we want a wider consultation on the issue, with the government and the (local) communities," he said.

'It's up to Rome'

Former Bruges Bishop Roger Wangheluwe, who resigned in April after admitting to having abused his nephew for 25 years.

Vangheluwe's case touched a raw nerve, with the internal church committee receiving more than 200 reports of other alleged child abuse cases in the wake of his confession, Adriaenssens said on Friday.

The disgraced bishop - who faces permanent defrocking - repeated his apologies at the weekend and announced he would leave his diocese to "reflect". Leonard said he hoped the Vatican would deal with his case quickly, stressing it was not his responsibility.

"It is up to Rome to take a decision," Leonard said.

He also said he expected the Vatican to issue a letter to all Catholics in Belgium, similar to one Pope Benedict XVI sent in March after a similar scandal rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The Adriaenssens committee was wound down in June, as its members resigned en masse after the police confiscated all its documents, in a highly publicised swoop that also targeted the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church in Mechelen.

After judges last week declared the raids illegal and ordered the documents to be returned, Adriaenssens decided to publish the committee's findings in a report, hiding the names of victims to maintain their privacy.

Leonard said the Belgian Catholic Church would "do its utmost" to help each of them. To that end, Harpigny announced the creation by the year's end of a Centre for Recognition, Healing and Reconciliation to deal with all cases of child abuse.

Meanwhile a third prelate, Bishop of Antwerp Johan Bonny, urged "whoever has committed abuses within a pastoral relationship to go and report himself".

But the corrective measures promised by the church hierarchy do not go far enough, according to a victims' association.

"There can be no light shed on the crimes committed within an institution if the committee of enquiry is controlled by the same institution," said Lieve Halsberghe, a spokesperson for the Human Rigths within the Church Collective.

Despite last week's ruling on the June raids, a Belgian prosecutor is still conducting a criminal investigation on child abuse within the church. But all cases dating back ten years or more are no longer punishable by law.


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