January 12, 2011 – 3:49PM
As fresh revelations of child sex abuse continue to emerge in Belgium’s Catholic church, an official church report shows most priests implicated were not prosecuted.
The report, handed by the church to a parliamentary inquiry late December and released by the daily Le Soir on Wednesday, details 134 cases of alleged abuse by priests over several decades.
“The document highlights very distinct policies of prosecution and sanctions from one diocese to the next,” the paper said.
Of the 134 cases of alleged child sex abuse listed in the document since the 1960s by the secretary of Belgium’s episcopal conference, Etienne Quintiens, 90 of the priests remain alive.
A further 50-odd complaints not yet on the list have been lodged since a church-backed commission last September revealed nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests and church workers since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.
The church document shows either the church or the judiciary received complaints in 70 per cent of the cases.
“Globally less than one abuser out of six was inflicted the maximum penalty available to the bishop: definitive suspension. And even fewer, 16 per cent, were effectively condemned by the judiciary,” Le Soir said.
The situation differed from one part of the country to another, with no judicial action at all in the Hasselt diocese, though the church transmitted 90 per cent of alleged cases to prosecutors, while in Ghent, 73 per cent of alleged cases were prosecuted and sentenced.
The largely Catholic country of 10 million is still reeling from the 2010 revelations as the new year begins, with fresh allegations of abuse in institutions run by nuns.
But the former head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic church last month denied before a parliamentary panel that top bishops “consciously” covered up abuse cases.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who was quizzed for hours by Belgian MPs, expressed his “horror” at the reports but said “there was no drive to consciously cover up the sexual abuse or deny it”.
The church’s chief between 1979 and 2009 said perpetrators should “pay damages as established by justice” but refused to say if the church itself should pay victims.
His successor, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, on Tuesday opened the door to possible compensation.
“It’s not excluded that we voluntarily show solidarity with these people,” he said in an interview on the Flemish television network VTM.