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Pope joins angry criticism of Belgian police raid

June 28, 2010

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Pope Benedict XVI joined in criticizing the aggressive search by Belgian police in the cathedral and chancery of the Brussels archdiocese. A spokesman for the Brussels archdiocese suggested that Church leaders might have grounds for a lawsuit against police authorities. And the independent commission set up by the Belgian bishops to investigate sex-abuse complaints resigned en masse in protest against the authorities’ seizure of their files.

In a message to Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Brussels, Pope Benedict spoke of his solidarity with the Belgian bishops, and decried the “surprising and deplorable manner in which searches were carried out.” The Holy Father acknowledged the gravity of sex abuse charges, but said “these serious matters should be dealt with by both civil law and canon law, while respecting the specific nature and autonomy of each.”

The Vatican and the Belgian bishops conference angrily protested two aspects of the search in particular: the violation of the tombs of two deceased archbishops, and the seizure of confidential files from the Church-authorized investigating commission.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State—who had called in the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See to lodge a formal protest about the searches—continued to voice shock and outrage at the incident, saying “there are not precedents—not even under the old Communist regimes.” Cardinal Bertone charged that the Belgian bishops, who were compelled to stay in the building during the search, and deprived of their phones, had been “sequestered” and denied food and water for several hours.

A spokesman for the Belgian hierarchy later clarified that the bishops had been allowed to eat, and treated respectfully during the search. Belgian justice minister Stefaan De Clerck chided Cardinal Bertone for exaggerating, and insisted that the police search had been conducted in accordance with Belgian law, in response to multiple reports of sexual abuse that had been covered up by the Belgian bishops.

However Fernand Feuleneer, a lawyer representing the Brussels archdiocese, questioned whether the police search was more than a “fishing expedition.” Noting that he had not been informed of any pending criminal charges resulting from the search, he hinted that the archdiocese could consider legal action against the officials who authorized the search. At a minimum, Feuleneer said, the judge who approved the aggressive investigation “did not really sufficiently consider the diplomatic aspects.”

Meanwhile all of the members of the independent commission that had been investigating sex-abuse complaints at the bishops’ behest agreed to tender their resignations, effective July 1. The commission issued a statement saying that its work could not continue for two reasons: First, the police had seized all the commission’s files, leaving the members with no documentation. Second, the police raid destroyed any hope for the “indispensable confidence” between the commission and law-enforcement authorities.

The commission members, in their statement, underlined their concern about the privacy of sex-abuse victims who had offered their reports with a guarantee of confidentiality, and called for steps to protect that confidentiality now that the victims’ reports are in the hands of police.


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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jun. 29, 2010 2:25 PM ET USA

    "Unum" is unusually polite concerning the outrageous. But we all have diffferent gifts, you know.

  • Posted by: unum - Jun. 29, 2010 10:36 AM ET USA

    The track record of the Belgian hierarchy regarding accountability for abuse and harboring of pedophiles leaves much to be desired. I would have to hear more details before I rush to condemn the Belgian government for protecting their citizens.