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Belgium’s bishops have repeatedly asked Vatican to laicize abusive bishop

January 31, 2024

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CWN Editor's Note: In 2017, 2019, 2022, and 2023, the Belgian bishops unsuccessfully petitioned the Holy See to laicize Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted abusing two of his nephews.

“In their joint letter to Pope Francis in October 2023, [the bishops] reiterated their demand for Roger Vangheluwe’s removal from ordained ministry,” said Bruno Spriet, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, in testimony before a Flemish parliamentary committee. His record continues to weigh on us and on all of society.”

“We know that those responsible in Rome are aware of the magnitude of the scandal and are working for a solution,” Spriet added. “It will be difficult for Pope Francis to make a peaceful visit to our country in September until there is clarity on this matter.”

The Vatican’s decision not to laicize Bishop Vangheluwe, now assigned to a monastery, recalls the relatively light restrictions imposed by the Vatican on Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bourdeaux and Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Guam for sexually abusing minors.

In August 2018, Pope Francis said he would personally decide Archbishop Apuron’s appeal; the 2019 decision, announced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, deprived Apuron of his office and forbade him to dwell in Guam—but nothing in the decision restricted his ministry elsewhere, as long as he does not wear the distinctive insignia of a bishop.

In 2023, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith barred Cardinal Ricard from public ministry outside of his diocese of residence for five years; he is permitted to vote in a conclave and to minister publicly in the diocese in which he currently resides, if the local bishop permits.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 31, 2024 5:34 AM ET USA

    It seems to follow a pattern: In 2002 archbishop Paetz of Poznan (Poland) stepped down in disgrace and was suspended for homosexual abuse of seminarians. In 2010 the Congregation for Bishops had lifted that suspension ignoring protests from Polish Bishops and Catholic laity.