Belgium: police raid church offices

St Rombout's cathedral, Mechelen

St Rombout's cathedral, Mechelen

Hundreds of media outlets have reported the fact that Belgian police entered and searched  a number of Catholic Church offices  on Wednesday and Thursday.  They sealed off and searched the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church at Mechelen, north of Brussels, while the Belgian bishops' conference was in session, with the Papal Nuncio taking part. They also searched the home of the former head of the Church in Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Danneels and his successor, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, confiscating a computer.  A spokesman for Cardinal Danneels, said that police did not interrogate him during the raid. "They did take away his computer," he said. "The cardinal believes justice must run its normal course. He has nothing against that."

In nearby Leuven, east of Brussels, police also searched the premises of the independent church commission which is investigating hundreds of cases of alleged abuse by clergymen. They took all 475 files belonging to the commission.

The commission is well-respected and led by Peter Adriaenssens, one of Belgium's top child abuse experts. He said he was outraged and shocked at the police actions, saying he had been given no warning, and would now struggle to deliver a report on clerical sexual abuse he was preparing for October.

Adriaenssens was in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on Wednesday when his offices were raided.  He told reporters: "All day we've been getting mails and calls from victims in panic. They agreed that we do a report, but they did not want others to see the material … No one asked us a single question. We have no idea why this happened now."

Adriaenssens suggested that a wave of "paranoia" had developed around the flood of allegations coming to light in recent months in Belgium. "There were rumours that the commission was having secret talks with the bishops. Perhaps the investigating magistrate let himself be led by this paranoia," he said.

A Brussels police spokesman said: "The police have a number of accusations connected with the sexual abuse of children within the Church. The searches are the result of the investigation we started recently. We are collecting evidence material."

In April this year, one of the most senior clergymen in Belgium, Archbishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting he had been abusing a boy for years.

Last month the Belgian bishops' conference issued a pastoral letter apologising  both for the sexual abuse by clergy and for the cover-ups and "silence" that then followed.

"Through the silence, priority was given to the reputation of the church institution or the clergyman over the dignity of the child as victim," said the letter.

Tags: Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Leuven, Peter Adriaenssens

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