Catholic World News

Belgian court finds archbishop culpable for failure to act on abuse complaint

April 24, 2015

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels has been ordered to pay €10,000 (about $11,000) to a victim of sexual abuse, after a Belgian court found that the archbishop failed to take action on an abuse complaint. In a civil suit, the abuse victim, Joel Devillet, charged that when he reported being abused by a priest, the Namur diocese, which at the time was led by then-Bishop Leonard, took no action other than transferring the accused priest to another parish. "The way in which Bishop Leonard treated the case of Joel Devillet constituted misconduct," the court said.

An attorney representing Archbishop Leonard said that the prelate might appeal the court’s decision. He observed that the court had criticized the reaction of the Namur diocese but had not pointed to anything specific that Leonard should have done.

The court’s judgment could put pressure on the Vatican to remove Archbishop Leonard from office, in light of the Vatican’s professed determination to hold bishops accountable for mishandling of abuse complaints. Archbishop Leonard, however, will be required to submit his resignation to the Holy See in any case on May 6, when he reaches his 75th birthday.

The archbishop’s predecessor in Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has also been charged with covering up evidence of sexual abuse. In June 2010 police raided the cardinal’s home and the offices of the Belgian bishops’ conference, apparently seeking evidence of criminal negligence by the hierarchy in abuse cases. A Belgian court eventually ruled that the search had been illegal and any evidence discovered as a result of the raid could not be used in court.

In April 2010 another Belgian prelate, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, resigned after admitting that he had molested his own nephew. Bishop Vangheluwe was ordered by the Vatican to leave Belgium, and was barred from public ministry. Cardinal Danneels later revealed that he had made “an enormous error” by meeting with the bishop’s nephew and urging reconciliation; the cardinal admitted that when he realized the boy had been abused, he should have asked for the bishop’s immediate resignation.


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