BRUSSELS — A Belgian archdiocese may take legal action over police raids on church property during which Roman Catholic bishops were detained and a cathedral crypt searched, a spokesman said Saturday.
His comments came as the Vatican returned to the attack over the police raids on Thursday amid fresh claims of child abuse claims by members of the clergy.
Vatican number two Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said the detention of a number of bishops during the raid was “serious and unbelievable”, comparing it to the practices of communist regimes.
Father Eric De Beukelaer, spokesman for the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese, told AFP that the church authorities were still considering their options.
He said something that the Belgian church particularly regretted was searching the premises of a committee probing priest paedophilia allegations.
“This is putting the work of the commission and its confidentiality at risk,” he said of the body which has been handling a flood of complaints, often in the strictest confidence, since the Belgian church’s longest-serving bishop, 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.
The church is also upset at the search of the Mechelen cathedral crypt which De Beukelaer says included drilling holes in the tombs of two archbishops. “apparently to see whether there were any hidden documents” linked to the paedophilia claims concerning Catholic clergy.
De Beukeaer said that, according to the church’s lawyer Fernand Keuleneer, “we cannot exclude that there might be legal action if necessary.”
“At the present moment we, as normal citizens, have the right to ask a few questions. The fact that they have been looking in the tombs of deceased cardinals, archbishops well I think we have the right to say that it’s a bit surprising,” he added.
“We know it’s about sexual abuse on minors and so it’s an important matter but we still don’t know who it concerns or what it’s all about so its all much to vague to decide what we are going to do right now.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, regretted, in an interview to Vatican Radio, that the search and the detention of the bishops had given the impression that they were suspects.
“Within a few hours the image of the Belgian church was tarnished,” he said, in comments relayed by the Belga press agency.
Earlier the archbishop said “it looks like the police were searching for the Da Vinci code,” a reference to the Dan Brown’s church mystery thriller.
The Brussels prosecutor has said the raid followed a string of accusations “denouncing abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures.”
The authorities also seized computer files at the home of Belgium’s top cardinal for the last 20 years, Leonard’s predecessor Godfried Danneels.
The Roman Catholic Church in Belgium has endured some of the worst of the worldwide child sex scandal besetting the Vatican, having been rocked in April when Vangheluwe resigned from his Bruges post after admitting sexually abusing a boy.
According to retired priest Dirk Deville, hundreds of cases of sexual abuse had been signalled to Danneels going back to the 1990s, but Danneels himself recently denied being involved in any cover-up.
In a bid to restore confidence within an increasingly sceptical flock, Belgium’s bishops came together in May to publicly beg forgiveness from victims both for the actions of paedophile priests and for the Church’s “silence” down the years.
Child sex abuse scandals and allegations of cover-ups have rocked the Church in Europe and the Americas in recent months.