Belgium: enquiry reveals catalogue of abuse

An independent enquiry has uncovered  more than 300 cases of alleged sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Belgium over four decades, between the 1950s and 1980s. Child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens, who led the commission, yesterday said cases of abuse, mostly involving minors, had been found in nearly every diocese, with the largest number in the 1960s. At least 13 victims have committed suicide. The report details 475 complaints against clergy and church workers.

Dr Adriaenssens said two-thirds of victims were boys but 100 girls also suffered.  The alleged victims included a child as young as two and 23 others aged between four and seven. Most of the victims were aged 12 when the abuse started.

While his commission found no indication that the Church had systematically sought to cover up cases, Dr Adriaenssens said its findings were a "body blow" to the Church in Belgium.

The child psychiatrist, who has worked with trauma victims for 23 years, said: "Nothing prepared me for the stories of abuse."

"We saw how priests, called up by the commission and asked to help seek the truth, were willing to set up the list of 10, 15, 20 victims they abused during boarding school while the commission knew only of one," he said.

Many alleged victims came forward to testify to the commission after the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned earlier this year, after admitting he sexually abused a nephew before and after becoming a bishop.

Last month Belgian media issued transcripts of tapes in which the former head of the church in Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, is heard asking the victim not to make  a public complaint against  Vangheluwe. Many victims say that in the past Church officials ignored their complaints.

All of the alleged abusers were men. Ninety five  have died, but the report says nearly the same number are still alive.

Dr Adriaenssens is a leading expert on paedophilia. The commission stresses that sexual abuse  has also happened within all religions and organisations.

It recommends punishing abusers who did not come forward and setting up a solidarity fund for victims, to which abusers should contribute.

Victims, the commission concluded, deserved "a courageous Church which is not afraid to confront its vulnerability, to recognise it, to co-operate in finding fair responses"

The commission's investigations were interrupted in June, when police raided their offices and confiscated their files. On Thursday an appeals court ruled that the raid was illegal, and the data could not be used by prosecutors.

The Church is due to announce on Monday how its investigations may be continued.

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