Pope Benedict XVI has accused Belgian police of "deplorable methods" in the way they raided church premises and detained senior clergy for questioning.
In a message of support to Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Brussels-Mechelen and the head of the Belgian bishops' conference, the Holy Father said: "I want to express... my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out including in the Mechelen cathedral and in the premises where the Belgian episcopate was meeting in plenary session.".
Pope Benedict called for the authorities to respect the Church's procedures for tackling abuse. He said that police had targeted a meeting that was due to address "amongst other things, aspects linked to the abuse of minors by members of the clergy."
"I have myself repeated numerous times that these serious facts must be dealt with by civil law and by canon law, in reciprocal respect of the specificity and autonomy of each," according to a copy of the letter released Sunday by the Vatican.