Catholic Church and paedophilia: Bishop’s scandal is widening

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Digital Journal (

01 May 2010

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele.

The paedophilia scandal involving Catholic bishop Vangheluwe is widening, there may be a second victim in spite of the bishop’s assurances. Cardinal Danneels and archbishop Léonard are under fire as well.

De Standaard, a leading Dutch-language Belgian newspaper, reports that Bishop Vangheluwe may have lied about there being only one victim of his paedophile tendencies. There had been rumours about another victim in the bishop’s family and circle of acquaintances and friends for a while, and VTM, a commercial broadcaster, has published information about the suspected second victim.

The second victim, also a boy at the time, was allegedly abused during the ’80s. He is also a family member of the bishop. He has never filed a complaint, and he has reportedly been able to give the affair “a place in his life” and no longer wants to be reminded of it, which is why he doesn’t want to witness.

The first boy, a nephew of the bishop’s, did finally file a complaint recently, after decades of silence, which has forced the bishop to resign. The bishop stopped abusing his nephew in 1987, at what time the nephew had reached majority.

Until now, witnesses of acts of paedophilia by the bishop after 1987 have not been forthcoming.

However, the affair with bishop Vangheluwe may have encouraged a lot of people who were afraid to come out of the closet to do so after all. The committee that deals with sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church has received 120 complaints in a week’s time, according to De Standaard.

Cardinal Danneels, the former archbishop of Belgium, has been accused by retired dissident priest Rik Devillé of inaction, even though he had informed the Cardinal in the ’90s about this affair.

Current archbishop Léonard, who was highly emotional during the press conference announcing bishop Vangheluwe’s resignation, has now come under fire as well. De Standaard reports that he was actively involved in a cover-up of a paedophilia case that occurred between 1987 en 1991 in Aubange, in the south of Belgium, where priest Gilbert Hubermont raped Joël Devillet, who was 14 years old at the time.

In 1990, Joël Devillet had told a suffragan bishop of the Namur diocese what had happened. The priest was moved to another parish, Flawinne, in the neighbourhood of Namur. The priest keeps contact with him and when he goes to visit the priest, he is raped again, repeatedly.

In 1996, he tried again to get Hubermont punished. He talks to then-bishop André-Mutien Léonard and his right-hand man, “diocesan judge” of the court of the Church Jean-Marie Huet. When the bishop confronts the victim and the priest in November 1996, the priest admits the facts.

Huet encourages Devillet to go to the police, but Devillet is not ready and refuses. He does not want his rapist to be fired. Afterwards, the diocese, the rapist and the victim agree to pay BEF 5,000 each to pay for therapy for the victim. However, the diocese demands that he uses a specific therapist from Leuven, otherwise, it does not want to pay its part.

Eric De Beuckelaer, spokesperson for now-archbishop Léonard, admits the facts and says that, while he does not have knowledge of specific cases, “this was common practice at the time”.

Devillet has not come out with his story for many years because he wanted to become a priest himself. When that didn’t go through, he files a complaint with the department of justice in Arlon, in the south of Belgium. This happened in 2001. The case only comes before the courts in 2003, where Devillet loses the case because the facts were now prescribed, in spite of an admission of guilt by Hubermont.

Nearly at the same time, the priest is fired from the priesthood. He is forbidden to visit his old parishes and is not allowed to have contact with minors. However, Devillet alleges that this is fake, since Hubermont was allowed to continue to live in the presbytery for all those years. Furthermore, the Walloon region (one of the many levels of government in Belgium) is paying him a salary as a social worker.

1 Response to Catholic Church and paedophilia: Bishop’s scandal is widening

  1. Sylvia says:

    In earlier reports Vangheluwe admitted “and for a short time afterwards, I sexually abused a young boy close to me”.

    Turns out that “close to me” was his own nephew! And looks like the bishop got his dirty hands on another “family” member.

    In and of itself the abuse is bad enough, but to learn that the bishop was sexually abusing his own flesh and blood? What a despicable and multi-pronged betrayal, of the boy (s), the Church, the Catholic faithful, and the family.

    Did the man have no conscience? None?!

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