Hundreds claim abuse by priests

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of sex abuse victims have come forward in Belgium with harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy that reportedly led to at least 13 suicides and affected children as young as two, an independent Belgian commission said yesterday.

Professor Peter Adriaenssens, chairman of the commission, said the abuse may have been even more rampant than the 200-page report suggests, because his panel's work was interrupted and all its files seized in a raid in June by judicial authorities who are conducting their own inquiry.

The professor, a child psychiatrist who has worked with trauma victims for 23 years, said nothing had prepared him for the stories of abuse that blighted the lives of victims. He called the report's findings "a body blow" to the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium. Belgian church authorities said they would react on Monday to the report. The Vatican had no immediate comment.

Belgium's Catholic Church is still reeling after the resignation in April of Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges, who admitted sexually abusing a nephew for years when he was a priest and bishop. The new report lists 507 witnesses who claimed they had been molested by clergy, including children who were aged two, four, five and six.