4 Jun 2011

Belgian Bishops finally agree to compensate some clergy abuse survivors but advocates deride words without action

The Olympian - Olympia, Washington May 30, 2011

Belgian church to pay victims for abuse

By RAF CASERT and DON MELVIN | Associated Press

BRUSSELS – The Belgian church says it is willing to pay compensation to victims of sexual abuse by clergy to help those abused restore their dignity.

Belgium's bishops and religious leaders said in a statement Monday they are "deeply touched and distraught" by revelations over the past year, when over 500 witnesses have come forward with harrowing accounts of molestation in the country by Catholic clergy spanning decades.

But the leader of a group of survivors said she would put her faith only in actions, not in anything the bishops said

"Whatever the bishops are saying is blah, blah," said Lieve Halsberghe, the leader in Belgium of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "We need to see action before we believe anything they say."

The decision follows months of wavering and deliberations within the church on how to best deal with the crisis, which has shaken the institution to its core.

The religious leaders said in a statement that the abuse had "given the victims great suffering and left traumas, which often lasted for many years."

They said they regretted the suffering and trauma "wholeheartedly" and "appreciated the courage of the victims to come forward with the painful facts."

For years, victims organizations had complained that the religious leadership totally ignored their pleas and protected abusing priests by simply moving them from parish to parish instead of punishing them.

A parliamentary inquiry committee set up in the wake of the scandal heard church officials acknowledge that they often were aloof to abuse problems and the needs of the victims.

The church officials said that in the wake of the inquiry they had agreed to enter arbitrage to consider compensation in cases where the legal time limit for filing suit has expired. Compensation would be agreed on a case-by-case basis.

They also vowed it would never happen again.

"The bishops and religious leaders are unanimous and steadfast to do all possible to make sure such serious facts, which society rightly deplores, never happen again," the statement said.

Halsberghe greeted that statement with derision, saying the abuse may be continuing today. She said her group is working on the cases of priests who have been abusing for four or five decades, yet continue to be allowed by the church to take care of "minors in precarious situations - poor, with no power."

"The bishops know that the justice system in Belgium is weak, the judiciary is very weak, and they are trying to hide behind it," she said.

The statement by the religious leaders said they want to "help victims restore their dignity and, according to their needs, provide financial help."

A former Belgian bishop at the center of one of the Roman Catholic church's biggest pedophile scandals said last month that he had abused two nephews and insisted he had no plans to abandon the priesthood.

Former bishop Roger Vangheluwe called 13 years of sexual abuse of one nephew which started at age 5 as no more than "a little piece of intimacy." He said the abuse of a second nephew was very short.

Vangheluwe said last month he fully realized what he did was wrong, and often went to confession about it. The 74-year-old Vangheluwe resigned a year ago, just as the sex abuse scandal was spreading across Europe.

The church long pleaded for time to set up a system to punish all abusers and provide some measure of relief for victims.

But Halsberghe said she feared any compensation might come only in exchange for an agreement to keep quiet, saying past payoffs had carried confidentiality agreements.

"I think this is a cruel thing, and absolutely against human rights," she said. "Survivors need to talk to heal. You cannot heal without talking."

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  1. Belgian authorities raid 3 bishops' offices

    By RAF CASERT, AP Jan 16, 2012

    Belgian authorities on Monday raided three bishops' administrative offices as an official said investigators were nearing the end of a two-year probe into whether church officials protected child abusers at the expense of their victims.

    Belgian Catholic Church spokesman Geert Lesage said the offices in the Hasselt, Mechelen and Antwerp cooperated during the raids and handed over requested files as much as possible.

    A judicial official close to the investigation, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Monday's surprise raids were based on some 200 witness accounts and 87 civil claims and sought to reveal if high-level clergy were involved in keeping abuse covered up.

    Over the past two years, more than 500 witnesses have come forward with accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy in Belgium over several decades. One bishop was forced to resign in 2010 after he admitted he abused a nephew.

    The main part of the investigation centers on "the non-assistance to people in danger and is targeted at people higher up in the hierarchy," the official said. "Possibly, we will be able to charge people." The official would not expand on who in the church hierarchy could potentially be charged.

    "Today we saw the start of the final phase of Operation Chalice," the official said, using the investigation's code name. The official said the next step would likely be in a couple of months.

    Tommy Scholtes, the spokesman for the Belgian bishop's conference said, "it is up to the judicial authorities to find out whether there has been negligence."

    Church officials in both Mechelen and Hasselt said that several files taken Monday centered on the 1960s and 1970s. The cases are past the statute of limitation, but could still be used to show "non-assistance to people in danger," said Jeroen Moens, a spokesman for the Mechelen Bishops' office.

    A tally of the raids showed that some two dozen files were collected from the three offices based on individual cases, reports of meetings between high clergy and victims and exchanges of letters.

    The Belgian church is also leading an investigation into the allegations.

    The raids were the first in "Operation Chalice" since June 2010, when authorities seized hundreds of case files from a church and used power tools to open a prelate's crypt in Mechelen's St. Rumbold Cathedral seeking evidence. Pope Benedict XVI called the raids "deplorable" at the time.

    That raid was declared excessive by a Belgian court and based on premises that were too vague. But the government said the investigation could continue if the inquiry respects legal rules.

    The judicial official stressed that "the context was totally different this time around."

    In Hasselt, the files of four cases were taken, but church officials were allowed to take a copy first, said Clem Vande Broek, a spokesman for the Hasselt bishop's office. He said two of the cases dated from over 40 years back while the suspects involved had already died and were already known to judicial authorities.

    "The whole procedure was correctly dealt with," said Vande Broek.

    The judicial official said that copies were always allowed to be taken to allow the church to continue its own investigation.

    The scandal has had a huge impact on the Belgian church and has highlighted the issue of sex abuse, which has undermined the church's credibility in many Western nations. Revelations of rape or other sexual abuse of minors by priests, and of cover-ups by bishops, piled up for months.


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  2. Belgian police in hot pursuit of Church child sex cover-up

    expatica.com January 18, 2012

    Belgian magistrates have re-launched a high-profile probe into child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, this time seeking to show the Church hierarchy engaged in a cover-up.

    Federal police pounced Wednesday on "personal files" held by senior Church figures in the dioceses of Liege, Namur and Tournai after hitting Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Hasselt and Mechelen since Monday.

    The seizures are based on testimony from some 200 alleged victims and in 87 judicial complaints.

    Federal magistrate and spokeswoman for national prosecutors Lieve Pellens said the purpose of this new "key phase" in a Belgian investigation is different from that of dramatic June 2010 raids on Church headquarters that angered Pope Benedict XVI.

    Truckloads of evidence gathered then has been ruled inadmissible by Belgian courts following Church challenges over police methods, but now magistrate Wim De Troy is focusing on a search for proof of "culpable negligence" by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

    After similar scandals in the United States, Ireland and Germany, Belgium was rocked in April 2010 with revelations that the then bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had abused a nephew for 13 years.

    Forced to resign over the scandal, he was subsequently placed in seclusion in a French abbey but vanished from view last year after rendering the Vatican "stupefied" when he went on television to announce he had also abused a second family member.

    According to Dutch-language daily De Standaard, magistrates are focused on Vangheluwe's case. He cannot be charged with abuse because the acts he has admitted to carrying out on his nephews go too far back under Belgian prosecution law.
    However, the newspaper has reported that until recently Vangheluwe protected priests in his diocese from similar allegations, sending money to one victim and threatening "consequences" if the pay-off came out. In this instance, it was a question of a female allegedly abused from the age of 16.

    Vangheluwe's case opened a floodgate, with a Church-backed report more than a year ago revealing almost 500 cases of alleged abuse of boys, girls and adults in Catholic institutions since the 1950s, including 13 known suicides by victims.

    The Belgian Roman Catholic Church sought to turn the page last week by saying new confidential channels for victims would result in all cases of sexual abuse being transferred systematically to judicial authorities.

    In December last year, the Church also committed to providing compensation of between 2,500 euros ($3,200) and 25,000 euros to victims for whom the legal deadline for prosecution of aggressors has expired.

    Church lawyer Fernand Keuleneer has queried the sense of these latest investigations, arguing that there is "no longer any doubt" that the Church is cooperating on the issue.

    In an interview with a French-language daily, La Libre Belgique, the lawyer said the Church has "clearly admitted" that past systems were "neither appropriate nor effective" to fight against sexual abuse.

    However, he also argued: "It is another thing to want to show that there was non-assistance to persons in danger."
    But Christine Mussche, a lawyer for around 100 alleged victims, told AFP that the new police probes are "absolutely necessary." She alleged the Church has "done everything to try to halt De Troy's probe."


  3. Belgian Church reveals 300 new child sex abuse complaints

    AFP , May 16, 2013

    BRUSSELS, Belgium - The Belgian Roman Catholic Church said Wednesday it had received more than 300 complaints of sexual abuse of minors in 2012.

    Three quarters of the 307 dossiers opened were in northern Flanders, the staunchly Catholic Dutch-speaking and larger half of Belgium.

    The great majority of complainants were mature adults, having waited before coming forward after the Church fell into scandal over recent years and with compensation now an issue.

    Forty-six of the cases raised last year have gone forward for mediation, officials behind the abuse census said.

    After similar scandals in the United States, Ireland and Germany, Belgium was rocked in April 2010 with revelations that the then bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had abused a nephew for 13 years.

    Vangheluwe's subsequent decision to quit opened a floodgate of allegations, with one report revealing almost 500 cases of abuse in Catholic institutions since the 1950s, including 13 known suicides by victims.

    In September 2011 some 70 alleged victims filed joint legal action against the Belgian Church and the Holy See, the first such class action suit in Belgium and the first such suit involving the Vatican in Europe.