Catholic Church Acknowledges Pain Caused by Clerical Abuse in Belgium

September 14, 2010

TONY EASTLEY: Belgium's Catholic Church is taking its first step towards apologising to people sexually abused by members of its clergy.

A damning report recently found that there were cases of abuse in nearly every diocese.

Meanwhile, victims groups in the UK want a similar enquiry, and will be looking for the Pope's support during his visit to Britain this week.

London correspondent, Rachael Brown, reports.

RACHAEL BROWN: The head of Belgium's Catholic Church, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, told a news conference in Brussels overnight, it's important to recognise the suffering of each one of the victims of abuse.

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD (translated): In the wake of this report the first thing we will do is look at individual cases. We want to be as receptive as possible to the wishes of the victims. We must listen to their questions to restore their dignity, and help heal the suffering they have endured

RACHAEL BROWN: The Archbishop wants to set up a victims’ support centre, but he doesn't expect it to be running until next year. A church-backed independent commission into sex abuse by Catholic priests and teachers has found cases in nearly every Belgian diocese.

The cases stretch from the 1950s to the late 1980s, and some victims were infants when the abuse started. The Archbishop says he wants the abusers punished.

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD (translated): We wish to draw the right lessons from the mistakes of the past. In the interviews that we are starting tomorrow, we will take into account the thoughts and proposals of the chairman of the investigating commission, but the challenge is so large, and the issues so emotional, that it is impossible for us to outline our proposals now in any kind of detail.

RACHAEL BROWN: But relations between the Church and state have been damaged by recent police raids on the commission's files. A court has since ruled the raids were illegal, and ordered the files be returned to the Church.

But commentators say the damage has been done, so they don't hold much faith in the Church's promise of greater cooperation with police.

San Deurinck, who was abused at his Catholic boarding school, says he's amazed at the Belgian Church's promise of action, when for so long, it's been silent.

SAN DEURINCK: When I was at boarding school I told to one priest in confessional and he didn't react, he was like a block of stone, and then I told to the superior of the school, he said "oh it's past now, you shouldn't think about it anymore, you should get over it and go on with your life."

RACHAEL BROWN: He wants the Church to hand over its investigation to the state.

Meanwhile, as Britain prepares for this week's Papal visit, some UK victims' groups are planning protest rallies. Others want the Pope to call for an investigation, similar to those held in Belgium and Ireland.

Anne Lawrence chairs the group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors.

ANNE LAWRENCE: We believe that every diocese is implicated in the abuse of children, and adults, in this country.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Vatican has somewhat distanced itself from calls for enquiries, what appeal will you be making to the Pope when he's here this week?

ANNE LAWRENCE: Well, we are going to present him with a book of the voices of survivors in England, Wales and Scotland - it's not every survivor, of course, because we have not met every survivor - but it's a representative sample of those voices, and we are calling on the Vatican to hold an inquiry that's independently constituted.

RACHAEL BROWN: And how would you counter its argument that that's not its role, that that would be the role of the diocese or the bishops' conference?

ANNE LAWRENCE: Well, given it seemed to be the policy from the Vatican to all congregations of bishops around the world not ever to disclose its abuses, and to cover it up whenever they could, well then it should be the Vatican's responsibility to insist that the same bishops' conferences be compelled now to allow victims to speak. It's compelled silence - it can compel openness.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Pope's visit might include meetings with victims of sexual abuse, but his spokesman says any meetings will be held in private.

This is Rachael Brown in London, reporting for AM.


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