Church ‘stupefied’ at new Belgian child sex bishop horror

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15 April 2011

The Catholic Church was left “stupefied” Friday as Belgium reacted with revulsion to new child sex abuse horrors admitted by an ex-bishop that the Vatican placed in exile rather than face earthly justice.

Roger Vangheluwe told Belgian television that he abused one nephew for 13 years and another for nearly 12 months — but that there was “no penetration” and that he didn’t “in the slightest” think he was a paedophile.

Days after church bosses ordered Vangheluwe to undergo “spiritual and psychological treatment” in a French hide-out, identified by media as La Ferte-Imbault in the wine-rich Loire Valley, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme laid into remarks he said “go beyond the boundary of what is acceptable.”

“The Church must assume its responsibilities — this cannot go on,” Leterme insisted.

Belgium’s bishops likewise expressed collective “shock” at comments “playing down” and “offering excuses” for years spent sexually abusing boys while preaching from a pulpit — and a Thursday night media appearance they said contravened strict orders from Rome.

“We trusted him to withdraw in silence abroad,” a statement said.

In the Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI’s spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See was “conscious of the gravity” of Vangheluwe’s case, and was assembling “the necessary elements” for a “detailed evaluation.”

He said the Belgian bishops had perfectly expressed “the feelings of stupefaction and concern aroused.”

Lombardi said earlier this week that the Vatican was considering “the requirements of the justice system” in Belgium.

“This is a sick man speaking, either that or it’s the standard reaction of a paedophile,” noted the bishop of Tournai, Guy Harpigny.

“He should not be in a French abbey,” cried Flemish newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen, “but in a jail cell or in a psychiatric institution.”

“How did it start?,” Vangheluwe said in the interview. “As in all families: when they came to visit, my nephews would stay over.

“It began as a kind of game with this boy. It was never a question of rape, or physical violence. He never saw me naked and there was no penetration.

“I don’t in the slightest have any sense I am a paedophile. I don’t get the impression my nephew was opposed, quite the contrary,” he added although he also admitted: “I knew it wasn’t good, I confessed it several times.”

He said the abuse ended when the family learned of it, but that they agreed to keep it under wraps — Vangheluwe paying millions of old Belgian francs to the victim.

He said he had to “talk regularly” with a designated psychiatrist and reiterated an earlier defence that the abuse “ended 25 years ago,” adding he had been able to “work very well” as a priest thereafter.

Belgian justice minister Stefaan De Clerck said the comments were a “slap in the face” for all victims.

The head of a Belgian parliamentary inquiry meanwhile slammed “protection” for Vangheluwe by the church hierarchy.

Socialist Karine Lalieux, probing a decades-long scandal of Belgian church sex abuse extending to more than 500 victims and 13 known suicides, wants Vangheluwe “one day” to “face justice in his country and answer to his crimes.”

She also backs mounting calls for the church to compensate victims.

Vangheluwe resigned as bishop of northern Bruges last year after admitting sexual abuse between 1973 and 1986 — blowing the lid off an unprecedented catalogue of shame following similar scandals in the United States and Germany.

The Belgian church fought a rearguard legal action to prevent prosecutors using evidence seized in massive police raids criticised by the pope himself.

Vangheluwe’s successor, Jozef De Kesel, said the latest tales of furtive nights and days under the covers had now sucked in the church as well as the physical victims.

“I’m not speaking about our image,” De Kesel said, “but about our credibility.”

Any decision to defrock Vangheluwe rests ultimately with the pope.


Full Comment

Vatican fails the pedophile response test, again

Araminta Wordsworth  Apr 15, 2011 – 2:51 PM ET | Last Updated: Apr 15, 2011 2:54 PM ET


Belgium’s Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe during an interview with Belgian television

Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe. Today: While Pope Benedict frets about the words being used in the mass and muzzling an uppity American nun, legions of Roman Catholic clerical pedophiles are being allowed to get on with it.

What will it take for the Church to root out the  priestly predators?

The case of Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges, is the latest dispiriting example of the Vatican’s failure to get the point. On Thursday, he admitted on television he had sexually abused two of his nephews, though he did his best to downplay the seriousness of his acts, insisting he was not a pedophile.

“It began as a kind of game with this boy,” said the 74-year-old. “It was never a question of rape, or physical violence. He never saw me naked and there was no penetration.”

“I don’t in the slightest have any sense I am a pedophile. I don’t get the impression my nephew was opposed, quite the contrary,” he added although he also admitted, “I knew it wasn’t good, I confessed it several times.”

No one in the family seemed very concerned, he claimed. Vangheluwe also admitted he gave one million Belgian francs to one of the boys, but not to pay him off, you understand. It was to enable him to buy a house.

The punishment for the most senior Catholic cleric to admit to abuse? —  “spiritual and psychological treatment” at a cushy retreat in the Loire Valley in neighbouring France. And in a slap on the wrist with a wet noodle, he’s also been told he can no longer perform the duties of a priest in public.

Belgians — clerics and lay people alike — are “stupefied” by the latest revelations.  Yves Leterme, the Belgian Prime Minister, said his remarks “go beyond the boundary of what is acceptable. “The Church must assume its responsibilities — this cannot go on.”

“I think it is astonishing how this man does not feel any guilt, does not show any guilt,” Christine Mussche, a lawyer for victims of sexual abuse, told The New York Times.

“He’s saying that the victims also enjoyed this and there is not feeling of regret at all. It is terrible for the victim — one year after this emerged — that he doesn’t feel any normal regret.”

That sentiment was echoed by Karine Lalieux, the Belgian legislator who recently led a parliamentary committee on sexual abuse. “I say it’s sickening, disgusting,” Ms. Lalieux said. “Mr. Vangheluwe has not understood that he has committed crimes, he has minimized and relativized his crimes. I think of the victims and of their suffering.”

Words like disgusting and appalling echo through the comments of Belgian media. “How can this man dare appear on television?” asks Paul Geudens in the Flemish newspaper the Antwerp Gazette, who says his hair stood on end listening to the ex-bishop.

“ ‘Here everything is fine. Love and kisses from sunny France,’ that’s the message we’re getting from Vangheluwe …
For the love of God, how can such a person ever have been a bishop? His place is not in an abbey in France, but in a cell in a psychiatric establisment.”

Writing in the French-language  newspaper Le Soir, Jurek Kuczkiewicz wonders why the disgraced prelate was comfortably housed by the papal nuncio in Brussels before the Vatican announced its decision this week and hastily shipped him out of the country.

“As if the announcement of his punishment could obliterate the astonishing news that a pedophile was the nuncio’s guest while awaiting a ruling from Belgian and Vatican legal authorities … the temporary hosting of a ‘lost sheep’ must have posed serious logistical and moral problems for the Catholic Church.
But surely there was a more appropriate lodging in between leaving him homeless — quite contrary to Christian charity — and housing him in a comfortable embassy protected by diplomatic immunity? Perhaps the Church hoped in this way to keep him under control. But one can’t help thinking if the nuncio wants to take in the unfortunate, there are many more worthy people sleeping on the streets.”

compiled by Araminta Wordsworth

6 Responses to Church ‘stupefied’ at new Belgian child sex bishop horror

  1. Sylvia says:

    “It began as a kind of game with this boy. It was never a question of rape, or physical violence. He never saw me naked and there was no penetration.”

    This from the mouth of a Bishop?

    This isn’t sick. It’s evil.

  2. Michel B. says:

    Any other organization with this much criminal activity impacting children would be shut down or severely overseen by authorities in terms of it’s access practices. I am totally disgusted with the church and their lack of respect for children’s rights to have an unimpeded childhood. No excuse, no rationalizing, no blaming the victim, not only are these people the adults they are also suppose to be representative of good moral conduct.

  3. Newfoundland Dog says:

    Well,well, well…can you imagine having to deal with this pervert Vangheluwe in a session of restorative justice?! Good luck!! I believe in miracles but I also believe in the impossible.

    How come he hasn’t been under arrest instead of “doing penance” in the nuncio’s house, anyway? I guess the three Hail Marys he was given for confessing it in the past didn’t act as much of a deterrent or punishment either. It’s about time The Vatican looked at what a realistic punishment for these crimes should be and impose it. Then, let the civil courts finish the job. Once these guys appear in court in casual attire like the rest of us, ( ever notice how they never appear in court wearing the roman collar) the aura surrounding them in clerical collars, liturgical robes and miter soon disappears and they get what they deserve under the criminal code the same as the rest of us would if we perpetrate these atrocities. Once justice has been served by both church and state and the victims are given priority treatment, no matter what it takes; then, maybe, forgiveness becomes a possibility.

  4. Sylvia says:

    The problem Newfoundland Dog is that Belgium has a statute of limitations. Believe it or not, criminal that he is, he can NOT be charged.

    But, he CAN – and I’d say SHOULD and MUST – be laicized.

  5. 1yellowknife says:

    I watched the one hour video in Flemish.
    Chilling, chilling chilling….
    So sorry for the victims who were unaware this public exposure of their trauma was pending and who are being revictimized.
    But there is one gain. Those who protected him are now put to fully exposed shame. The world is now watching.

  6. Newfoundland Dog says:

    Well then, Sylvia, I think the intelligent state of Belgium and any other state with a statute of limitations on the crime of sexual abuse of children needs to take a long hard look at changing that legislation. The crime is world wide and it is amazing that, in light of its prevalence, states with good governments knowing the horrendous effects on their children would not be anxious to change their laws to protect their most vulnerable. Hopefully, the more the crime is exposed the more inclined governments will be to make the necessary legislative changes that will enable young victims to get justice in the future.

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