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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee