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Belgian abuse commission reports; court says raid on bishops was illegal

Catholic World News - September 10, 2010

A Belgian court has made public its ruling that the June 24 police raid on the headquarters of the Belgian bishops’ conference was illegal.

The Court of Appeals said that no evidence seized in that raid could be used in court, and demanded that prosecutors return all confiscated files to the bishops. The Belgian courts had already issued a similar ruling regarding the search undertaken on the same day of offices and files belonging to an independent commission set up by the bishops to investigate sex-abuse complaints. The Court of Appeals ruled that the surprise search—in which police held the Belgian bishop for several hours, took away cell phones, seized laptop computers, and carried off hundreds of files—had been made without clear evidence that any criminal act had been committed by representatives of the bishops’ conference or the Brussels archdiocese, or by Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the retired Archbishop of Brussels. The police had also thoroughly searched Cardinal Danneels’ residence.

Archbishop André-Joseph Leonard, the new Archbishop of Brussels, voiced his satisfaction that the court had vindicated the bishops’ protest against the conduct of the raid. He emphasized that the Catholic hierarchy is “in no way opposed to a properly run judicial investigation.” The Belgian bishops issued a statement echoing that thought, saying that their conference “welcomes and fully supports the judicial investigation and prosecution of child abusers.” The statement added: “Such investigations should however always be focused and carried out in a correct legal manner, which, as the Court now confirmed, has not been the case up to present.”

Meanwhile the Church's own inquiry into sex-abuse complaints produced a report. The chairman of the commission formed by the Belgian bishops said that nearly 500 witnesses had come forward with complaints about sexual abuse by clerics in 300 cases, and that abuse was a factor in at least 13 suicides.

Peter Adriaenssens, who chaired the independent commission, presented a final report on behalf of the body. The commission members had resigned after the police raid, saying that the seizure of their files had made further work impossible. Many of the witnesses who had testified before the commission, having been promised anonymity, protested that the policy had compromised their confidentiality.

The commission reported 300 credible complaints of abuse by clerics. Many of the cases were from years ago, and a number of the accused priests are now dead. Roughly two-thirds of the victims were boys: a proportion substantially lower than in the US. The commission asked for “a courageous Church” to confront the reality of abuse and punish perpetrators.

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