Sex Abuse Divides Belgium, Too

By John W. Miller
Wall Street Journal
September 14, 2010

Poor Belgium. The kingdom had to reckon last week with the truth that its moral princes for most of the 20th century had allowed generations of children to be sexually molested.

But amid those revelations came an inconvenient statistical truth. The great majority of the abuse –- 445 out of the 475 cases -– happened in Dutch-speaking Belgium. This in a country where the two language groups, Dutch and French speakers, are waging an all-out battle of attrition over the future political form of this country. (Out of a population of 10.6 million, roughly 60% speak Dutch, the rest mostly French.)

Fortunately, no politician was so callous as to try to score political points off this fact. But reporters were plenty curious enough to ask the question at the press conference where the report was presented.

Dr. Peter Adriaenssens, the (Dutch-speaking) child psychiatrist who oversaw the panel, attempted an answer.

Every society and culture has a stable percentage of pedophiles, he said, so he saw no basis for there being a cultural explanation.

Instead, Flanders belonged to the group of societies where admitting having been sexually abused is no longer taboo. The Catholic societies north and east of Brussels — Flanders, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Denmark -– have all had highly publicized abuse scandals. In France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, it's been more restrained.

In particular, Flanders was rocked when one of its most famous prelates, Roger Vangheluwe, the bishop of Bruges, confessed to raping his nephew for many years. "That was the first time people saw you could be a well-known person of the church and also a socio-psychopath," said Dr. Adriaenssens. Over two-fifths of the 475 victims came forward in the week after the Vangheluwe story broke.

Also, added Dr. Adriaenssens, "there have been more boarding schools in Flanders."

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