FaithWorld

Belgium looks to Pope Benedict to help end its clerical sexual abuse crisis

brussels

(Grand Place, Brussels, 14 April 2009/Kiban)

Belgium’s politicians and prelates are looking to Pope Benedict to help end a clerical sexual abuse crisis that is crippling the local Catholic Church and frustrating judicial authorities unable to resolve it.

Calls to punish former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who shocked Belgium last week by publicly excusing abuse cases that caused his downfall last year, have come from the Belgian prime minister, justice and foreign ministers and several senior politicians. Belgian bishops have denounced Vangheluwe, 74, who quit as bishop of Bruges after admitting to molesting his nephew, and several bishops have made clear they want swift punitive action from the Vatican, which took control of his case this month.

But there is no consensus on what Benedict, who has the final say on Vangheluwe’s fate, should do. He has shied away from stiff punishments for bishops caught in the abuse crisis plaguing the Church in Europe and the United States.

Belgian justice cannot intervene because the abuse cases, which Vangheluwe admits to, all occurred before the 20-year statute of limitations for them. Church law has no provision to defrock a bishop although the Vatican has done it in rare cases.

“The Church … should be much more severe and much more complete than what has been said up until now,” Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck, a Christian Democrat, said on Friday.

Belgium urges Vatican to impose harsh punishment on sex abuse bishop

(Belgium's Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck addresses the Justice Committee hearing on child sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church, at the Belgian Parliament in Brussels September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir )

(Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck addresses the Justice Committee hearing on child sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church, September 17, 2010/Francois Lenoir )

Belgium’s justice minister urged the Vatican on Friday to impose stiff punishment on a disgraced Catholic bishop who denies being a paedophile despite admitting to sexually abusing two of his own nephews. Stefaan de Clerck spoke out amid a media uproar after former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe defended himself on television by saying the abuse he committed was only “superficial.”

Vangheluwe, who quit his post and went into hiding a year ago after admitting to molesting a nephew, confessed in the interview on Thursday evening that he had molested a second one. He left Belgium last week under Vatican orders to seek “spiritual and psychological treatment” abroad and Belgian media say he is now in a French monastery. The Vatican has said the final decision on disciplining him lies with Pope Benedict.

Disgraced Belgian Catholic bishop admits he abused second nephew

(Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges, is seen in this November 7, 2006 photograph in Bruges. Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium Andre-Joseph Leonard told reporters at a news conference in Brussels on April 23, 2010 that Vangheluwe has resigned after admitting sexual abuse of a young man. REUTERS/Edwin Fontaine )

(Roger Vangheluwe, former bishop of Bruges, in a November 7, 2006 photograph in Bruges/Edwin Fontaine )

A disgraced former Belgian Catholic bishop has  admitted that he had abused a second nephew, but said that he did not consider himself a paedophile. Roger Vangheluwe, 74, resigned as bishop of Bruges a year ago after admitting to sexually abusing one nephew and is still awaiting a final verdict from the Vatican. In his first public appearance in a year, Vangheluwe gave a long interview to Belgian television station VT4 that was broadcast live Thursday evening.

He began by saying how sorry he was and then gave details of his abuse of two nephews, one for some 13 years, the other for less than a year.  “It had nothing to do with sexuality. I have often been involved with children and I never felt the slightest attraction. It was a certain intimacy that took place,” Vangheluwe said.  “I don’t have the impression at all that I am a paedophile. It was really just a small relationship. I did not have the feeling that my nephew was against it, quite the contrary.”

Vatican says sex abuser bishop leaves Belgium for undisclosed destination

vangheluwe

(Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, November 7, 2006 photograph in Bruges/Edwin Fontaine)

A Belgian Roman Catholic bishop who resigned in disgrace after admitting to sexually abusing his nephew has left the country for “spiritual and psychological treatment” abroad, a Vatican ambassador has said. Former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, 74, went into hiding after shocking the Belgian Church with his public confession in April 2010. He first stayed at a Belgian monastery but later left it, and his exact whereabouts were not made public.

Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the papal nuncio or ambassador to Belgium, said in a statement the Vatican’s doctrinal department had investigated his case and decided he needed to go abroad for treatment. He did not say where the bishop went. “Bishop Vangheluwe, who since his resignation has lived in different places without a fixed address, has already left Belgium to submit to this decision,” he said in the  statement on Saturday.

Vangheluwe was the most senior Catholic cleric to admit to molesting a child amid all the sexual abuse cases exposed in Europe over the past two years. Other bishops who have resigned in Ireland were accused of covering up abuse cases.

Former Belgian Catholic leader Danneels says not responsible for abuse

danneels (Photo: Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels at a parliamentary committee hearing on child sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church, in Brussels December 21, 2010./Francois Lenoir)

Belgium’s former top Roman Catholic bishop told a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday into the sexual abuse of children by clerics that he was not responsible for other Belgian bishops.

Belgium’s lower house set up the inquiry to examine an issue that has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide and resulted in hundreds of victims coming forward. Widespread sexual abuse of minors by Belgian clerics drove at least 13 victims to suicide, a Church commission said in September, recording 475 cases.

Tape recordings released in Belgium this summer made it clear that Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who until January was archbishop of Brussels and head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, was aware of abuse by Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe but had discouraged immediate public statements by the victim.

Belgium’s Catholic sex abuse scandal prompts questions on mandatory celibacy

mechelen 1Three Roman Catholic bishops in Belgium, reacting to damaging sexual abuse scandals in their ranks, have taken the rare step of urging their Church to consider easing its ban on married men in the priesthood.

The three are all from Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region shocked by the resignation of a prominent local bishop who had sexually abused his nephew. About 85 percent of cases in a recent report on abuse in the Church were also from Flanders. (Photo: St. Rombouts Cathedral, seat of the primate of Belgium, and main marketplace in Mechelen,  23 July 2010/Ad Meskens)

The head of the Belgian Church, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels, has put out the message that the priority for the embattled Belgian Church is to help its victims.

Confusion reigns as Belgium struggles with Catholic sex abuse scandal

shipFollowing the crisis of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Belgium is like watching a rudderless ship in a storm. The Church hierarchy seems overwhelmed by the scandal that has engulfed it. The state seems unable to intervene after its spectacular raid on Church offices last June backfired on it. Left hanging are at least 475 victims who have no idea what to expect next. (Image: A Dutch Ship in a Storm by Flemish artist Matthieu van Plattenberg, National Maritime Museum, London)

The latest installment in this confusing drama came on Tuesday when Bishop Guy Harpigny, the bishops’ conference spokesman for abuse issues, confessed in two morning radio interviews that the Church botched a news conference on Monday by not issuing a full apology to victims. But — as my colleague Phil Blenkinsop reported in our story today — he admitted it was afraid to do so because that could bring on a wave of compensation demands.

“If we say ‘mea culpa,’ then we are morally responsible, legally responsible, and then people come wanting money. We don’t know what the lawyers and the courts will do with that,” he told the Flemish-language Radio 1. “We are afraid. Who will ask — the victims, the courts or someone else? That’s why we are so careful.” A bit later in the interview, he admitted: “The news conference yesterday was a missed chance for a ‘mea culpa’. Maybe the church was too concerned with itself.”

Belgian Cardinal Danneels admits making mistakes in sex abuse case

danneels newsconfThe former head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church,  Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has admitted he made mistakes in dealing with a case of sexual abuse and should have demanded the resignation of the bishop involved.

In interviews published in the newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws and La Libre Belgique and the weekly magazine Knack on Wednesday,  he described his failure to urge former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe to go as his “most serious error of judgement.” (Photo: Danneels at news conference on January 18, 2010/Timothy Seren)

Vangheluwe resigned at the end of April after admitting he had sexually abused a nephew, the first such known case of high-level abuse in the Catholic church in Belgium. However, Danneels suggested to the victim during a meeting earlier in April that it would be better to keep quiet, with the bishop due to retire in 2011, according to transcripts of the meeting published last month.

Leaked Danneels tapes with Catholic sex abuse victim make for sad reading

danneels (Photo: Cardinal Danneels arrives at federal police headquarters in Brussels July 6, 2010 for questions about  allegations of sexual abuse by priests/Stringer)

“Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me?” — Victim of sexual abuse by a Belgian bishop to Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

The transcripts of two meetings between Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and a man sexually abused by the disgraced former bishop of Bruges make for sad reading indeed. Two Flemish-language newspapers, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, published the texts on Saturday after the victim provided them with his secret recordings of the sessions.  My analysis of the case is here.