Belgium: Does Abuse Cover-Up Continue?

One of the repeated claims made by Church authorities to counter the outcry over abuse, is that while they acknowledge past mistakes, these are indeed all in the past, that procedures have been mended, and that in the church as it is now, all is well. Belgian police are not convinced, and have raided the offices of the Bishops’ headquarters, the Archbishop’s palace, and the home of the Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, confiscating computer files and documents relating to ongoing investigations of abuse.

Monsignor Giacinto Berloco, papal nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, speaks to police during a raid on the offices of the country’s most senior Catholic prelate. Photograph: Matthew Busch/AP

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The Belgian Catholic Church has long had an established commission to investigate allegations of abuse, but this appears to have been pretty well moribund until the public outcry over abuse earlier this year led to public declarations of apology and pleas for forgiveness from the bishops, and to one high profile episcopal resignation, of the Archbishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe. The commission was then revived and re-invigorated with a well-respected new leader, child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens.

The commission of inquiry is well-respected and is led by Peter Adriaenssens, one of Belgium’s top child abuse experts, whose office has received hundreds of complaints this year and who has threatened to resign should his work be impeded by the church hierarchy. He emerged as a national figure following the notorious Marc Dutroux paedophilia and murder case in 1996 and runs one of the country’s most respected child abuse centres.


It is not clear why the police have intervened in this case, although there have in the past been allegations that in former times the commission was too easily influenced by the bishops. There appear to be some suspicions that there may again be collusion, although other observers believe that the head of the commission is fully independent.

The police have a number of accusations connected with the sexual abuse of children within the church,” said Jean-Marc Meilleur, a Brussels police spokesman. “The searches are the result of the investigation we started recently. We are collecting evidence material.”

Police declined to say whether any of the individuals at the centre of today’s raids were direct suspects or whether the searches concerned evidence affecting other cases.


Reaction has been mixed. Understandably, the Bishops have expressed collective outrage, while Bishop is alarmed that the loss of his material will impede the work of his own investigation, and is concerned that some of the material he had, now removed by the police, came from victims who were expecting that their statements would remain entirely confidential. On the other hand, some surviivors’ groups, such as SNAP, have expressed satisfaction that the Church is seen by this action to be not beyond the reach of the law, and will not be simply left to police its own misdeeds.

One odd claim reported in the New York Times concerned the raid on the Cardinal’s home:

The RTL television station in Belgium reported the raid on the home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who retired in January as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. The cardinal’s computer was removed, RTL said. Mr. Tornielli, the Vatican expert, said that to the best of his knowledge, the cardinal would have diplomatic immunity as a Vatican official, and would have to have given permission for a police search of his home.

Huh? Diplomatic immunity? Even of one grants the dubious claim of the Vatican to be an independent state, only the Papal Nuncio in each country is commonly recognised as having diplomatic status. How does this claim stack pu against the earlier claim by the Vatican that US victims of abuse cannot sue the Vatican, as local bishops are independent and are not employees of the Pope. Come on, now:  you can’t have it both ways.

(Also see the Guardian and New York Times for more).


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