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Friday, 24 September 2010 22:57

Belgian catholic church needs more time to deal with child abuse

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Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
Published: 5:42PM BST 13 Sep 2010

[caption id="attachment_6604" align="alignright" width="460" caption=" Belgium's Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard addresses the media during a press conference in Brussels Photo: EPA "] Belgium's Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard addresses the media during a press conference in Brussels  Photo: EPA  [/caption]

The Belgian Roman Catholic Church has begged for more time to deal with widespread child sexual abuse by its clergy because the problem is "so big and touches on so many emotions".

A report, by a special independent commission, last week uncovered 475 cases of sex abuse committed by at least 91 priests, other clergy or church workers in every congregation in Belgium.

At least 13 victims committed suicide following abuse carried out over four decades, the investigation found.

Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, admitted that the report "and the suffering it contains make us shiver".

"We want to draw the necessary lessons from the mistakes of the past," he said.

But Archbishop Leonard pleaded for extra time after, he said, "a feeling of anger and powerlessness" had gripped the Church in the wake of the allegations, the resignation of a bishop and police raids on Catholic buildings earlier in the summer.

"The challenge is so big and touches on so many emotions, it seems impossible to us to present a new proposal in all its details," he said.

The Archbishop promised that in future any abusers would be kicked out of the priesthood but gave no details about how the church would work with police and victims when crimes are reported.

He insisted that it was up to the Vatican, not the Belgium church, to punish Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges, who resigned in April after confessing to having abusing his nephew and to then having tried to pay off the boy's family.

"The Nuncio has assured us that a decision in Rome will be taken with a reasonable time limit," he said.

In a bid to fight off criticism that the Belgian church is not doing enough, the archbishop announced "a centre that will work for recognition, healing and reconciliation" with sex abuse victims, to be opened in December.

Lieve Halsberghe, a spokesman for a Belgian abuse victims group called "Human rights in the church", dismissed the proposals.

"There cannot be an investigation commission on crimes committed within an institution controlled by the institution itself," she said.

Gabriel Ringlet, a priest and vice-rector of the Catholic university in Leuven, expressed his doubt that the church had got to grips with "the magnitude of the task".

"I would have wished for them to get more profoundly to the heart of the matter, the victims expect it," he said. "I really feel that part of the hierarchy is paralysed."

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