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
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine