|Belgian Catholic Church Sex Abuse: We Feared Compensation Claims
By Bruno Waterfield
September 14, 2010
Belgium's Roman Catholic Church did not apologise for decades of endemic child sexual abuse by its clerics because an official apology would triggered a flood of expensive compensation claims, a senior bishop has admitted.
Guy Harpigny, the bishop of Tournai and the senior cleric responsible for rooting out sex abusers within the Belgian church's ranks, has further inflamed outrage by confessing that financial concerns over litigation stopped an official apology.
"We did not dare. If you officially apologise, then you are acknowledging moral and legal responsibility. Then there are people who ask for money and we don't know what lawyers and the courts will do about that," he said.
There has been widespread anger that Belgium's bishops have failed to apologise and begged for more time to deal with an independent report that uncovered sex abuse committed by at least 91 priests, other clergy or church workers in every congregation in Belgium, taking place over four decades.
At least 13 of the victims had committed suicide following the abuse, the report found last week, in an investigation fuelled by the resignation of the bishop of Bruges after he admitted abusing his nephew and trying to cover it up.
San Deurinck, 65, a Catholic activist who tried to commit suicide after he was abused by two priests as a teenage boy, has called on the Church to "respect victims" and to ensure justice by handing paedophile priests over to the police.
"I always had hope, but then I lost it," he said. "Let the Church understand that justice must do her work. The Church must comply to respect of victims."
Belgian bishops and the Vatican have also clashed over whether the Pope should punish Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges, who plunged the church crisis in April after admitting that he had abused his nephew and had tried to pay off the family.
Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said on Monday, that the Pope had no plans for further action after a "quick decision" by the Pontiff "to accept the former bishop's resignation"
"Vangheluwe is no longer allowed to say mass in public. At the moment I have no knowledge of other specific measures that will be taken," said Father Lombardi.
But speaking on Tuesday, Bishop Harpigny called on the Pope to "defrock Vangheluwe", with or without a full ecclesiastical trail
"I would prefer a trial by the church authorities. This would be more honest. But any signal would be a good one," he said.
"Vangheluwe has chosen his own punishment and the Vatican does nothing."
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