FaithWorld

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.”

The news conference on Monday was supposed to be the Church’s response to a report issued last Friday by its own commission for sexual abuse claims. That report was a damning indictment of the Belgian Church, where it said sexual abuse of minors was widespread in the 1960s and 1970s and little was done when cases were brought to the attention of the hierarchy.  leonard

“Silence is a sickness in society as a whole,” Peter Adriaenssens, the head of a Church commission monitoring complaints, said as he presented the report to the media. “Almost every institution, every school, particularly boarding schools, at one time harboured abuse.”

Belgian Church moves on abuse but victims still unhappy

leonardBelgium’s Catholic Church responded to an abuse scandal with plans to create a reconciliation centre and set new rules for priests, but victim groups called the moves insufficient. “The past months have been very difficult for the Church and for us. We are fully committed to tackling this problem in a new way,” Archbishop André-Joseph Leonard told a news conference. “It causes us pain. Coming out of such a crisis is not easy.” (Photo: Archbishop Leonard at news conference, 13 Sept 2010/Yves Herman)

The scandal erupted in April when the Bishop of Bruges resigned after admitting he had sexually abused his nephew. A commission monitoring abuse last week released a report saying clerical abuse was widespread in Belgium. Critics accuse the Church of not acting against errant priests and turning a blind eye to abuse. The commission said it found no evidence that the Church had systematically covered up crimes, although had found instances where nothing was done.

The centre for recognition, healing and reconciliation for victims will possibly be set up by the end of the year.

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.

Expect papal meeting with UK sexual abuse victims — Patten

pattenOne regular but regularly unannounced feature of papal trips in recent years has been the private meeting with local Catholics who were sexually abused as youths by priests. Journalists only find out about them after they’ve taken place. Just such a meeting seems to be on the cards during Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain next week, but of course it does not appear in his official schedule. Chris Patten, the prime minister’s special representative for the papal visit,  said as much on Monday in an interview with BBC television (quote at the end of the clip):

“On several previous visits, the pope has met victims of abuse. He has never said he was going to meet them before he did and his meetings have always, for very understandable reasons, been private. I would be surprised if in this visit or any future visit he behaved in any different way.”

When our London correspondent Avril Ormsby asked about any possible meeting with victims in an interview with him last week, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “It will not be announced beforehand, and it will take place in private, if that is going to be the case. But precisely because of those rules, it is not clear.”