BRUSSELS — A Belgian Catholic Church-backed commission probing hundreds of reported cases of child abuse by priests announced its resignation en masse on Monday, after police raids that angered the pope.
“The entire committee is going to resign,” one of its members, Karlijn Demasure, told television cameras following a meeting of the body set up in 2000 to investigate paedophilia within the Church.
A theology professor at the Roman Catholic Saint Paul University of Ottawa, Demasure said that “trust between victims and the commission” and between “the commission and the judicial authorities” was now “broken” and that it was no longer possible to go on.
“We are pulling out. The debate must now take place between victims, political leaders, the judiciary, the Church and public opinion,” added commission head Peter Andriaenssens, who announced on Thursday that police had seized hundreds of files and claimed a breach of confidentiality.
Demasure said that Andriaenssens had stood down in the morning, and that the rest of the committee decided to follow suit, with the decision effective as of this Thursday, July 1.
Belgium’s outgoing justice minister Stefaan De Clerck expressed disappointment but stressed in a statement that the raids “were ordered by an investigating magistrate acting in full independence.”
However, he also said it was “crucial that due care be given to the victims,” adding that he was striving to ensure full cooperation across Belgium’s autonomous political systems in Flanders and Wallonia.
He said urgent talks were being convened to look into “the difficulties resulting from the treatment by the judicial system of facts brought to its knowledge by the Catholic Church commission.”
Thursday’s raids were prompted by new claims of child abuse by members of the Catholic Church in Belgium, one of the countries worst hit by recent revelations of paedophilia by priests in Europe and North America.
Police confiscated phones, computers and an archdiocese’s accounting system in a search for documents including any correspondence between alleged victims and the Catholic authorities.
Pope Benedict XVI said the raids used “deplorable methods” while his number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the “sequestration” of a number of bishops while they were carried out was unprecedented even under communist regimes.
They also seized computer files at the home of Leonard’s predecessor Godfried Danneels, who was Belgium’s top cardinal for the past 20 years.
Italy’s Corriere della Sera said Belgian authorities acted out of frustration with the Church, which under a 1990s agreement was supposed to refer abuse cases to prosecutors to pursue.
The Belgian Church was rocked in April when its longest-serving bishop, 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.
The US Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal on Vatican immunity in a case that opens the way for priests in the United States accused of paedophilia to face trial there.