Anger as church fails to punish Belgian abusers

The Catholic Church in Belgium yesterday promised to open a rehabilitation centre for child abuse victims after an investigation found that hundreds of young people were raped and assaulted by its priests over the past 40 years.

In a stark admission on the eve of Pope Benedict's visit to Britain, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard confessed that the abuse scandal engulfing Belgium had caused a "shiver" to run through his church. The archbishop was speaking in response to the publication last week of a harrowing dossier of evidence which concluded that sexual abuse occurred in virtually every congregation and Catholic establishment within Belgium.

Investigators working for an independent commission say they have now received 475 complaints from victims and that 13 people abused by clergy were known to have committed suicide. Most of the abuse occurred in the 1960s and 1970s to children older than 12 although one victim was just two years old.

Archbishop Léonard promised yesterday to engage with those who had been abused. But there was concern among some victims that the church had yet to lay down any clear guidelines on how it will find and punish abusive priests that are still alive. The only major concrete offer given to abuse victims so far is the creation of a "recognition, reconciliation and healing" centre which church officials said they hoped to have open by the end of the year.

But the archbishop has pleaded for time to set up a system to punish all abusers and provide closure for victims. "The report and the suffering it contains make us shiver," he told reporters. "It was impressive, perplexing but also very positive. It was exactly what we wanted – transparency and that truth come to light. The challenge is so big and touches on so many emotions, it seems impossible to us to present a new proposal in all its details (now)."

With fresh sex abuse scandals erupting this year in parts of Western Europe, the United States and Latin America, many eyes will be firmly fixed on how the Vatican and its local church hierarchies respond.

Previous abuse scandals in North America and Ireland were mired by accusations that the church surrounded itself in a culture of secrecy that favoured confidentiality agreements and the protection of paedophile priests above transparency, institutional reform and the needs of its victims.

In Britain, there is still anger over the raft of confidentiality agreements that were signed between the church and some of its victims – although the child protection reforms that were brought in by the church have been praised and recommended as a blueprint for other local churches to use.

Police in Belgium are under acute pressure to respond efficiently to the abuse accusations which exploded on to the national agenda in April when the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting he had sexually abused his nephew.

The country's law enforcement agencies were widely condemned for their failure to catch prolific paedophile and serial killer Marc Dutroux earlier in the decade and were completely reorganised in response. The criminal investigation into clerical paedophilia, however, has been thrown into doubt after a raid on a Belgium church in June was deemed by a court to be illegal. The Vatican issued an angry response to the raids at the time.

The church response to the crisis has also been muddied by revelations that a senior Cardinal begged the victim of Bishop Vangheluwe not to disclose that he had been abused until after the bishop retired. The pleas were secretly recorded by the bishop's nephew and made available to the Belgium media last month.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Service Manager - Birmingham

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Circles South East Youth Service: Youth Services Volunteer

this is an unpaid voluntary position: Circles South East Youth Service: LOOKIN...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £30,000+

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading privately owned sp...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is require...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn