- Title: BELGIUM: Belgian Bishop resigns after admitting abuse
- Date: 24th April 2010
- Summary: JOURNALIST READING PAPER PAPER WITH PHOTOGRAPH OF VANGHELUW READING 'PAEDOPHILE' (Dutch)
- Embargoed: 9th May 2010 13:00
- Location: Belgium
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA7B8F0CDFI377DS1ES5P06XKQL
- Story Text: A Belgian bishop resigns after admitting he had sexually abused a young man when he had been running the diocese of Bruges.
A Belgian bishop resigned on Friday (April 23) after admitting he had sexually abused a young man when he had been running the diocese of Bruges.
Roger Vangheluwe's is the first such case in Belgium but a Church commission said it was investigating about 20 more possible cases in the country.
"When I was not yet bishop and for a while later, I sexually abused a youth in my close entourage. The victim is still affected. During the last ten years I have told him, several times, that I recognise my wrongdoing towards him, as well as to his family. I asked for forgiveness but this did not appease and me neither," said the bishop, in a statement read at a news conference in Brussels.
Vangheluwe stepped down after a person close to the victim complained to the Church.
Pope Benedict has accepted the resignation, the Vatican said in a statement.
The Archbishop of Brussels, Andre Joseph Leonard, said they called the news conference to demonstrate transparency, and a will to end such abuses.
"The decision by the Bishop of Brugge, as well as the organisation of this press conference, correspond to the will for transparency that the Catholic Church, in Belgium, want, from now on, to rigourously apply in this matter," he said.
He seemed to be holding back tears when he said, in Dutch, that he hoped all priests in Belgium would not be tarnished with the same brush.
"We, his brothers, are aware of the crisis in confidence which his resignation will provoke for many people. However we dare to hope that wisdom will prevail and that the bishops, and in particular the priests, in this country will not be globally and unfairly discredited," he said.
Professor Peter Adriaenssens, president of a commission which was set up by the Church in 2000 to investigate sexual abuse, confirmed that the case involved a minor.
"This would qualify as pedophilia. It is abuse of a minor whilst in a position of strength," he said.
"It is probably the most painful event we have lived through in the Church, in Belgium, for a very long time. It a great suffering for us, the bishops of Belgium, but also for the whole Catholic community in Belgium," said the Archbishop.
Leonard said people working and living close to Vangheluwe had no idea about the crime.
"No one knew about it. As far as we know and based on the information we received, no one knew about it. At least no bishop in Belgium had ever heard about this and it was a surprise as well for the whole of the bishop's entourage in Brugge. No one suspected such a thing," he said.
The Belgian Catholic Church says is actively encouraging people to come forward when they have been victims of abuse.
Leonard called for members of the Church to examine their consciences before seeking ordination.
"When someone has had, in his past, things of that nature, sexual abuses, never should such a person accept to be ordained as a priest or ordained as a bishop. When someone is recognised for the presbyterian ordination or for the episcopal ordination, and knows that he there are bodies in the cupboard of his past, his first duty is to refuse ordination and to not put himself forward," Leonard said.
Adriaenssens said the victim did not want to reveal their identity but that they had asked the Church to come forward publicly.
"He was a boy, it was sexual abuse that went on for years, during several development phases, which very well affected the later development of this man... As Monseigneur Vangheluw indicated his open letter it went on during the period when he was priest and the first years when he was bishop. That means these events took place 20 years ago, as far back as 20 years," Adriaenssens said.
Asked how many cases of Church abuse there were in Belgium Adriaenssens said he could not say but that the commission was currently examining 20 complaints which had been made since the recent cases of abuse were uncovered. He also said there were as many cases of abuse in the Church as in other "professional" sectors adding there were 7 reported cases of child abuse in Flanders every day.
Hundreds of instances of abuse by clergymen have come to light in Europe and the United States in the last month as disclosures have encouraged victims to go public with their allegations.
With new cases surfacing almost daily, the Church has said the guilt of individuals who committed crimes, however heinous, cannot be shifted to the pope or the entire Church.
The pope did not speak out about the accusations in recent Easter Week ceremonies and even his latest comments refer only to the Church's unspecified "sins", without referring to the abuse scandals directly.
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