Pope Breaks Silence over Belgian Abuse

By David Charter
The Australian
September 14, 2010

THE Pope was said last night to be feeling pain over the extensive pedophile priest scandal in Belgium as the country's top bishops appealed for abusers to come forward to help with a process of reconciliation.

It is the first time that the Vatican has made clear Benedict XVI's feelings of dismay after a report last week by a Church-appointed commission revealed 488 alleged cases of abuse, including 13 where the victim committed suicide.

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, announced yesterday that a new body would offer support to victims.

This failed to satisfy campaigners wanting punishment of 91 living perpetrators identified by the commission's inquiry into cases dating back 50 years.

"The Pope is following very closely what is happening in the Belgian Catholic Church," Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told RTL-TVI last night."Like everybody he feels much pain after the publication of the report, which again reveals the huge suffering of victims and gives us an even more vivid sense of the gravity of the crimes," Father Lombardi said.

The Pope's only previous intervention into the abuse scandal was to condemn as deplorable a police raid on the commission into abuse, when all its files were seized amid suspicion that senior clergy were being protected.

"The report and the suffering it contains make us shiver," said Archbishop Leonard, adding that the Church was left with "a feeling of anger and powerlessness".

"We have received many very emotional reactions from people who want us to know about their torment.

"We must hear their questions to re-establish their dignity and help them to heal."

Archbishop Leonard, speaking alongside the bishops of Antwerp and Tournai, said that he hoped for a letter from Rome on the issue of sexual abuse addressed to his country's faithful.

Johan Bonny, Bishop of Antwerp, added: "Whoever has committed sexual abuse in a pastoral relationship must let us know."

There was no public apology from the bishops and their press conference was over in 35 minutes. Representatives of victims were prevented from entering the building.

Sam Deurinck, who said that he was abused by priests when he was aged 11 to 13, was one of a handful of protesters outside holding pictures of themselves as children.

"I think it will be old wine in new bags. The bishops have found for many, many years several techniques to gain time and to postpone their final judgment," he said.

Walter Van Steenbrugge, a lawyer representing about 30 victims, said that the Church should be ready to pay compensation and leave cases to the justice authorities.

The commission, which was set up under Professor Peter Adriaenssens, had little co-operation from serving priests and was unable to finish its work.

Its members resigned en masse after the police raid in June that seized all its paperwork, which has now been returned after a court ruled the action illegal.

A Centre of Recognition, Healing and Reconciliation will be set up by Christmas to replace the commission, the bishops said.

Campaigners for Human Rights in the Church, an association of abuse victims, said that it had little faith in the latest plans.

"You cannot investigate crimes committed when the body is controlled by the institution itself," Lieve Halsberghe, its spokeswoman said.

"You cannot pardon the crimes committed by the Church."


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