29 June 2010 9:26 am
From: The Times
Pope Benedict, seen here at the Vatican, warned a cardinal against repeating child abuse allegations. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
THE resignation of a church-appointed child abuse commission in Belgium has left the Vatican reeling from widening pedophile scandals.
A war of words broke out between the Vatican and Brussels after the Pope condemned as deplorable the seizure by police of the commission’s files, and the detention of nine bishops for an entire day last week.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke out again yesterday, warning an Austrian cardinal against repeating accusations that a senior Italian cardinal covered up child abuse claims at the highest level.
The crisis enveloping the global Roman Catholic Church deepened overnight when the US Supreme Court opened the way for the Vatican to be sued by the victims of pedophile priests.
The Vatican had wanted the court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the crimes of a priest who was moved from Ireland to Chicago, and then to Portland, to escape prosecution. However the court rejected the Vatican’s argument that, as a sovereign state, it enjoyed immunity from prosecution in the US.
A similar church-versus-state conflict is unfolding in Belgium. A commission of inquiry into child abuse, set up by the Catholic Church there in 2000, has long suffered from allegations of inertia.
It focused on about 30 cases and tried to resolve them between the parties involved rather than hand over details for prosecution.
Peter Adriaenssens, a respected child psychiatrist, was brought in to chair the commission this year, to restore confidence. But the panel was overwhelmed with hundreds of fresh allegations after the resignation in April of Roger Vangheluwe, 73, the Bishop of Bruges, for abusing a boy over several years.
Police last week seized 475 case files from the commission offices, as they stepped up their own investigation after suspicions that senior church figures were being protected from the law.
Such was police mistrust of the church inquiry, and the atmosphere of paranoia surrounding the affair, that they drilled into the tombs of two cardinals then used a camera to look for documents, although none were found.
Plaster was removed from alcoves in St Rumbold’s cathedral in the town of Mechelen, to the north of Brussels, after allegations from a former inquiry commission member that documents could be hidden there, a Belgian newspaper reported. Again, nothing was found. Police also seized computer files from the home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who led the Catholic Church in Belgium for 20 years and faced allegations that he ignored claims of abuse.
Mr Adriaenssens, 53, a part-time professor at the Catholic University of Leuven, was furious that his team’s documents were seized. “We were used as bait,” he said, suggesting that accusers had come forward confident in the anonymity afforded by his commission.
“Why would they raid our offices? That can only be because they assume that we withhold information, or that we would manipulate things,” he said.
Some Belgian politicians are angry at criticism of the police raids that was voiced by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state and a close aide of the Pope, who said that the “sequestration” of the bishops for the duration of the operation was unprecedented, even under communist regimes.
Kris Peeters, the Minister-President of Flanders, said: “It is a pity that such kinds of expression are made, but I understand it is a very emotional case.”
The resignation of the Adriaenssens commission leaves no buffer between the church and the police – but raises a legal question mark over whether any of the documents which were seized could be used in court because of the way information was given to the church commission under condition of anonymity.
In a sign of the tension felt in the Vatican, it issued an unusually blunt statement yesterday in which it effectively said that the Pope had censured Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, who last month publicly accused another cardinal of covering up abuse.
“Regarding accusations against a cardinal, we remind everyone that, in the church, only the Pope has the authority to accuse a cardinal,” said the statement – a rare case of the church making its internal bickering public.
It added that church officials had to “show due respect” for each other. Cardinal Schon-born accused Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano of having blocked an investigation into abuse by former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who stepped down as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995.
He died in 2003 never having admitted guilt or faced any charges.