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.