Belgium: Top Catholic Bishop Resigns Over Child Sexual Abuse

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Roger Vangheluwe said he was ‘enormously sorry’ for the abuse

The longest-serving Roman Catholic bishop in Belgium has resigned after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years. Roger Vangheluwe, 73, said that he was “enormously sorry” for molesting the boy from before he was made Bishop of Bruges in 1985.

The Vatican accepted his resignation only a day after a lawsuit was filed in the US against Pope Benedict XVI over sex abuse committed by an American priest.

The Catholic Church is reeling from the departures of several senior figures over abuse scandals, including Walter Mixa, a senior German bishop close to the Pope, who resigned on Thursday after admitting beating children at an orphanage.

Mr Vangheluwe is the most senior cleric to step down over child sex abuse during the crisis. In a statement read by the head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, Archbishop André-Joséph Leonard, the bishop said: “When I was not a bishop, and some time later, I abused a boy. This has marked the victim mentally forever. The wound does not heal. Neither in me nor the victim.”

Church officials said that Mr Vangheluwe would not be prosecuted because the crime had not been reported within the country’s statute of limitations, understood to be ten years after the victim turns 18 for cases of child sex abuse.

A commission set up to investigate claims of abuse in Belgium has received 20 new cases this year, a spokesman said. The bishop offered his resignation to the Vatican on Tuesday after details of his behaviour were sent by the family of his victim to the retired former archbishop of Belgium and other bishops this month.

“Over the past decades, I asked for the forgiveness of him and his family,” added Mr Vangheluwe. “But the media storm of the past few weeks only reinforced his trauma. It was not tenable any more. I regret what I did and offer my most sincere apologies to the victim, his family, all the Catholic community and society.”

His resignation was accepted under a canon law provision for illness or unspecified “other serious reasons”, the Vatican said. The disgraced bishop did not appear at the news conference.

Despite his admissions about his conduct, Archbishop Leonard called Mr Vangheluwe a “great brother and dynamic bishop” but said that his transgression would shock many. “We are aware of the crisis of confidence his resignation will set in motion,” he said. He emphasised that the Catholic Church in Belgium was determined to “turn over a leaf”.

In his Easter homily he addressed the paedophilia scandals that have surfaced in the Catholic Church, saying that in the past “the reputation of Church leaders was given a higher priority than that of abused children”.

The Catholic Church in Belgium has a weak record of dealing with sexual abusers in its ranks. In 2000 it created a panel to look into abuse complaints, which quickly clashed with the Church leadership. The panel has accused the Church of tardiness in compensating victims.

The lawsuit in the US has been filed by an alleged victim of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest accused of molesting up to 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin. The writ names the Pope in an attempt to open secret files on investigations into sex abuse. The Vatican’s lawyer dismissed the case as “ without merit”.

David Charter, Brussels
April 24, 2010

Source: The Times

Related information:

Database of Catholic Priests Publicly Accused of Sexual Abuse in the US (BishopAccountability.org)

Illinois man is suing the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI for covering up sexual abuse (CNN)

Catholic priest, 84, receiving oral sex from a choirboy in front of a local church altar caught on video (AFP)

Priest Says He Was Bullied Into Taking Fall For Pope Benedict XVI In Abuse Scandal (The Local)

Catholic Church is ‘like the Mafia’ (The Telegraph)

Cardinal Praised Bishop’s Silence Over Paedophile Priest (BBC NEWS)

Catholic Priest Accused of Child Porn Possession (AP)

Belgian Bishops Failed To Punish Over 300 Paedophilia Complaints (AFP)

Connecticut Catholic Bishops Fight Sex Abuse Bill (CNN)

Richard Dawkins plans to arrest Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit to Britain ‘for crimes against humanity’ (Times)

Catholic Priest Raped Teenage Boy At Gunpoint (My San Antonio)

Norway Catholic Church Computer Server Crashed By Flood Of Pedophile Priests Abuse Claims (AFP)

Pope John Paul II Blocked Inquiry of Paedophile Cardinal Friend Who Abused 2,000 boys (Times)

Ireland Archbishop Stunned by Archbishop of Canterbury’s Criticism of Catholic Church (Times)

Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher: Abuse critique like anti-Semitism (AP)

ABC Nightline: What the Pope Knew About Father Maciel (ABC NEWS)

Pope Benedict Appointed Bishop Accused of Ritually Beating Orphaned Children (The Raw Story)

40% of Americans view Pope Benedict XVI favorably (Gallup)

1963 letter indicates former pope knew of abuse (AP)

Germany’s Catholic Church sexual abuse hotline received 1,000 calls the first day (Digital Journal)

Austrian Catholic Church Abuse Hot Lines Log 566 Reports This Year (Austrian Independent)

Australian Bishop says ‘vast amount’ of sexual abuse cases yet to emerge (Sydney Morning Herald)

Deaf Boys Tried to Tell of Priest’s Abuse FOR YEARS (New York Times)

Christopher Hitchens Slams Vatican, Pope Over Sex Abuse Scandal (Huffington Post)

The Pope Is Not Above the Law (Slate)

Sex Abuse Victims to Sue Vatican (Times)

Pope Benedict Signals Won’t Be Intimidated By Abuse Critics, Uses Popemobile For First Time On A Palm Sunday (New York Times/AFP)

Vatican knew of abuse in Ontario: Victim (Toronto Star)

Pope failed to defrock an American priest who molested hundreds of deaf boys, despite receiving letters from American bishops pleading with him to act (Times)

A church sex scandal where the truth is crucified (Toronto Star)

Sinead O’Connor: ‘There Should Be A Full Criminal Investigation Of The Pope’ (LA Times)

Catholic Church quietly expelling and punishing children, homeless (Irish Central)

Former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland routinely shredded copies of weekly reports about sexual abuse by priests (Flashback):

Former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland routinely shredded copies of weekly reports about sexual abuse by priests, according to formerly sealed testimony turned over to Milwaukee County’s district attorney on Thursday.

Swiss Catholic Church Investigating 10 Abuse Cases (Reuters)

Irish Catholic Church Paid Child Sex Abuse Victim To Keep Quiet (Guardian)

Catholic Church Child Abuse: Nuns Now Also Accused (Radio Netherlands Worldwide)

Church: Pope Had Role in Moving Molesting Priest (Bloomberg)

Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry (Times)

Pope will struggle to survive abuse scandal (Irish Independent)

Benedict’s involvement ’shows extent of cover-ups’ (Irish Independent)

Sinead O’Connor: I’d help Jesus to burn down the Vatican (Irish Independent)

RIGHTS-GERMANY: ‘Catholic Church Protects Paedophile Priests’ (IPS)

Child abuse claims sweep Catholic Church in Europe (AP)

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