Belgian Catholic Church acknowledges abuse
The Belgian Roman Catholic church on Monday acknowledged widespread sexual abuse over years by its clergy and pleaded for time to set up a system to punish abusers and provide closure for victims.
The comments were in response to a report Friday in which hundreds of sex abuse victims revealed harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy throughout the country over the past 50 years.
At a news conference Monday, Belgian Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard said "a feeling of anger and powerlessness" had taken hold of the church.
"The report and the suffering it contains make us shiver," he told reporters. He said the crisis gripping the church is so deep, it would be impossible to find an easy way out.
"We want to draw the necessary lessons from the mistakes of the past," Leonard said, adding it would have to involve "a long process of truth."
The report, by an independent panel with links to the church, highlighted claims by surviving family members that at least 13 victims committed suicide as a result of the abuse by clergy. Hundreds more victims complained about trauma that plagued them, sometimes up to 50 years after the abuse.
The report stressed that the abuse went well beyond touching and often centred on oral and anal abuse, forced masturbation and mutual masturbation. It said there was abuse in each sector of the church, especially at Catholic boarding schools, and throughout the nation. Most of the abuse happened during the 1960s and 1970s.
"It was impressive, perplexing but also very positive. It was exactly what we wanted — transparency and that truth come to light," Leonard told VRT television later.
Leonard said the Belgian church was struggling with how to respond.
"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]," Leonard said of hotly anticipated church plans to go after the abusers and protect the victims. The church also called on all abusers to come forward.
'Come clean with the past'
"We want to and have to come clean with the past," said Antwerp Bishop Johan Bonny, who is also involved in the followup of the report. "We have had the courage to let the commission do its work and publish its conclusions. A major step has been taken, however painful it is."
The panel's report was the latest embarrassment for Belgium's Church, which is still reeling after the April resignation of Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted to having sexually abused a nephew for years when he was a priest and bishop decades ago.
Victims and a leading senator have already called religious authorities to punish him for the abuse.
On Monday, Leonard said it was up to the Vatican to decide on any punishment.
"It is not up to Monsignor Vangheluwe himself. The nuncio has assured us that a decision in Rome will be taken with a reasonable time limit," he said.
Channel 4 - U.K. September 12, 2010
Catholic crisis: child abuse victim speaks out
By Jonathan Rugman
In an interview in Antwerp on Saturday, 65 year old San Deurinck, a retired shopkeeper, described to Foreign Affairs correspondent Jonathan Rugman what he had endured as a child at a Catholic boarding school in the 1950s and 1960s.
San also gave his testimony to the Adriaenssens enquiry on child abuse within the church, which published its findings on Friday.
His testimony was so powerful that I have transcribed most of it here. San only started talking about his abuse this year, and I salute his extraordinary bravery in sharing his experience. (Reader warning: this text contains some graphic allegations).
"It started in the first two months of school, just before my 12th birthday. It started with two priests. The first priest tried to touch my genitals, which was extremely strange to me, and he hurt me once. It was a few days before I went home and he hurt me very very much.
The first year it was really intense. Then after three years, when I became a little older, they weren't interested any more. I was getting extremely rebellious because then I started realising what had happened. Because when I was sexually not active, I didn't know what they were interested in.
I wasn't the only member of my family who was abused. My younger brother told my mother he was abused...three weeks before she went into a retirement home, she begged for my forgiveness.
There must have been many (victims). It was common knowledge, like part of the corporate culture of the school. It was daily life. When the priest came in the playground, people would make jokes about it, sing songs about it. He would say "come to my room" and everybody started laughing.
Some priests disapproved of it but they did not speak about it. I have known at least two cases of boys who got a thrashing - split lip, closed eyes and nose bleeding, because they said "no". I was extremely frightened.
You didn't talk about it. The Catholic sub-culture forbids people to talk about the priests. A priest is God. I was 100 per cent sure I wanted to be in the statistics (of the Adriaenssens report into church abuse).
So I wrote a letter. The first time I started writing about it (in March 2010), it gave me an enormous emotional breakdown. I thought I should not give the names of the perpetrators. I was afraid it would give the Church the occasion to cover up the whole thing.
I got rid of the Church, I became an arrogant freethinking atheist, but I was not rid of the abuse or of the influence of the Church.
The second victim is the relationship with your parents. And trusting people is extremely difficult.
Many times I feel I make the wrong choices. I trust people I should not trust and I don't trust people I should trust. Also there is insomnia. When I have a night of four hours' sleep that is a good night. It is amazing what they have done to people.
They have been trained not to see the bad things of the Church. And now they are confronted with bad things, they don't see it. They try to guess how they should manage this and "manage" means no damage to the Church. If (the Pope) is serious, he should sell the Pieta of Michelangelo to the Chinese and give money to the victims: it is very, very simple. So people can make something of the last years of their life.
A new leaf can only begin when they repent and confess. And confess means open up all their archives. The Pope should force everyone to come forward with information, and he should change the vision of priests from sinners to criminals.
Catholic bishop hides as abuse crisis unfolds
Read Jonathan Rugman's full report here, to watch his interview with San Deurinck play the video on this page.
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