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Belgian Bishops, Vatican Protest Aggressive Search of Archdiocese  News, June 25, 2010

As details emerged about an aggressive police search of the Brussels archdiocese, the Catholic bishops of Belgium and the Vatican issued matching protests against “the way in which the search took place.”

Police conducted an extensive search of archdiocesan offices, the archbishop’s residence, and even the crypt of the cathedral of the archdiocese. A police spokesman said that the raid was conducted after authorities received multiple reports “denouncing abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures.”

The police seized the files of an independent commission set up by the Church to investigate sex-abuse complaints. The chairman of that commission, Peter Adriaenssens, said that it would be difficult to continue the group’s work, with the files now confiscated. “We have no idea why this was done,” he said, suggesting that “a form of paranoia” of sexual abuse by Catholic priests had developed in Belgium.

The Catholic Church in Belgium has been under heavy criticism since Bishop Roger Vangeheluwe, who had led the Bruges diocese since 1985, resigned in disgrace in April of this year, admitting that he had been guilty of sexual abuse. The June 24 search also covered the home of retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who had led the Brussels archdiocese for over 30 years before stepping down this year. Police seized the cardinal’s computer and some of his personal files.

Police officers who arrived unannounced at the archdiocesan headquarters on June 24 roped off the building, asked all officials and employees to surrender their cell phones, and announced that no one would be allowed to leave the building until the search was complete. “It was not a pleasant experience, but everything was done correctly,” the Belgian bishops’ conference reported. The search concluded at 7:30 in the evening.

In an astonishing display of their determination, police searched the crypt of the cathedral in nearby Mechelen, and drilled small holes in the tombs of two deceased archbishops, Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Leon-Joseph Suenens, inserting miniature cameras into the tombs to look for documents. Church officials said that search was fruitless.

The Vatican expressed “great surprise at how some searches were conducted yesterday” and “indignation” at the violation of the deceased archbishops’ tombs. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for Relations with States, called in the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See, Charles Ghislain, to lodge an official protest.

The Belgian bishops, while emphasizing that they support a full investigation of all sex-abuse complaints, also protested the methods employed in the police search. They objected in particular to the police seizure of the files held by the independent investigating commission, saying that the seizure violated the “privacy rights of which the victims who have chosen to turn to this committee should benefit.” Peter Adriaenssen, the chairman of the committee, reported that his office had been deluged with messages from victims who were worried that their reports could become public.