Email Us My Blog

Pope Joins Angry Criticism of Belgian Police Raid 28 June 2010

Pope Benedict XVI joined in criticizing the aggressive search by Belgian police in the cathedral and chancery of the Brussels archdiocese. A spokesman for the Brussels archdiocese suggested that Church leaders might have grounds for a lawsuit against police authorities. And the independent commission set up by the Belgian bishops to investigate sex-abuse complaints resigned en masse in protest against the authorities’ seizure of their files.

In a message to Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Brussels, Pope Benedict spoke of his solidarity with the Belgian bishops, and decried the “surprising and deplorable manner in which searches were carried out.” The Holy Father acknowledged the gravity of sex abuse charges, but said “these serious matters should be dealt with by both civil law and canon law, while respecting the specific nature and autonomy of each.”

The Vatican and the Belgian bishops conference angrily protested two aspects of the search in particular: the violation of the tombs of two deceased archbishops, and the seizure of confidential files from the Church-authorized investigating commission.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State—who had called in the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See to lodge a formal protest about the searches—continued to voice shock and outrage at the incident, saying “there are not precedents—not even under the old Communist regimes.” Cardinal Bertone charged that the Belgian bishops, who were compelled to stay in the building during the search, and deprived of their phones, had been “sequestered” and denied food and water for several hours.

A spokesman for the Belgian hierarchy later clarified that the bishops had been allowed to eat, and treated respectfully during the search. Belgian justice minister Stefaan De Clerck chided Cardinal Bertone for exaggerating, and insisted that the police search had been conducted in accordance with Belgian law, in response to multiple reports of sexual abuse that had been covered up by the Belgian bishops.

However Fernand Feuleneer, a lawyer representing the Brussels archdiocese, questioned whether the police search was more than a “fishing expedition.” Noting that he had not been informed of any pending criminal charges resulting from the search, he hinted that the archdiocese could consider legal action against the officials who authorized the search. At a minimum, Feuleneer said, the judge who approved the aggressive investigation “did not really sufficiently consider the diplomatic aspects.”

Meanwhile all of the members of the independent commission that had been investigating sex-abuse complaints at the bishops’ behest agreed to tender their resignations, effective July 1. The commission issued a statement saying that its work could not continue for two reasons: First, the police had seized all the commission’s files, leaving the members with no documentation. Second, the police raid destroyed any hope for the “indispensable confidence” between the commission and law-enforcement authorities.

The commission members, in their statement, underlined their concern about the privacy of sex-abuse victims who had offered their reports with a guarantee of confidentiality, and called for steps to protect that confidentiality now that the victims’ reports are in the hands of police.


Vatican Information Service, 26 June 2010

VATICAN CITY, 26 JUN 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the text of a communique issued yesterday afternoon by the Secretariat of State concerning the search of the archbishopric of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium, which was conducted on 24 June.

"The bishops of Belgium were gathered at the archbishopric of Mechelen- Brussels at about 10.30 a.m. for the monthly meeting of the episcopal conference. At about that time, police and court officials entered and announced that the archbishopric would be searched, following complaints of sexual abuse within the territory of the archdiocese. No other explanation was given, but all documents and mobile phones were confiscated and it was explained that nobody could leave the building. This situation lasted until approximately 7.30 p.m.

"Everyone was interrogated, both members of the episcopal conference and staff. It was not a pleasant experience, but everything was done correctly. The bishops have always affirmed their trust in justice and its work, and this search is being greeted with the same confidence; therefore, for the moment, the [bishops] shall refrain from making further comments.

"However they, along with Professor Peter Adriaensses, chairman of the committee for handling sexual abuse within a pastoral framework, regret the fact that during another search all the files of this committee were seized. This goes against the right to privacy which victims who have chosen to turn to this committee should enjoy, and gravely affects the committee's much- needed and excellent work".

"Eric de Beukelaer, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference.

"In publishing this statement, the Secretariat of State reiterates its firm condemnation of all sinful and criminal acts of abuse of minors by members of the Church, as well as the need to repair and confront such acts in accordance with the requirements of justice and the teachings of the Gospel. It is in the light of these needs that the Secretariat of State also expresses great surprise at how some searches were conducted yesterday by the Belgian judicial authorities, and its indignation at the fact that the tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Leon-Joseph Suenens, deceased archbishops of Mechelen-Brussels, were violated. The dismay felt over those actions, is compounded by regret for some breaches of confidentiality, owed to those very victims for whom the searches were conducted.

"These feelings were expressed personally by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States, to Charles Ghislain, Belgian ambassador to the Holy See".
SS/VIS 20100628 (410)


Vatican Information Service, 27 June 2010

VATICAN CITY, 27 JUN 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the text of a message, made public today Sunday, sent by the Pope to Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels, president of the Belgian Episcopal Conference, following the search of the cathedral of Mechelen and of the archbishopric which was conducted on 24 June.

"At this sad time I wish to express my special closeness and solidarity to you, dear brother in the episcopate, and to all the bishops of the Church in Belgium, for the surprising and deplorable manner in which searches were carried out at the cathedral of Mechelen and at the site where the Belgian episcopate was gathered in a plenary assembly which, among other things, also intended to consider questions associated with the abuse of minors by members of the clergy. On a number of occasions I myself have highlighted how these serious matters should be dealt with by both civil law and canon law, while respecting the specific nature and autonomy of each. In this context, I trust that justice may run its course in order to guarantee the fundamental rights of persons and of institutions, at the same time respecting victims, showing unconditional recognition for those who undertake to collaborate, and rejecting everything that obscures the noble goal with which justice is assigned.

"While assuring you that I accompany the progress of your Church with my daily prayers, I willingly impart an affectionate apostolic blessing".
MESS/VIS 20100628 (250)


Pope Criticises Police Methods in Belgium Raid

(AFP) – 27 June 2010

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI criticised Sunday the "regrettable methods" of Belgian police who raided a bishops' meeting as part of a paedophilia probe, as Brussels accused the Vatican of over-reacting.

The pontiff's criticism of the search came in a message of support to Brussels-Malines Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, the head of the Belgian bishops' conference.

"I want to express ... my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and regrettable methods, searches were carried out including in the Malines cathedral and in the premises where the Belgian episcopate was meeting in plenary session".

The raids on Thursday came amid fresh claims of child abuse by members of the clergy.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Saturday said the detention of a number of bishops during the raid was "serious and unbelievable", comparing it to the practices of communist regimes.

The Vatican has also expressed anger over the confiscation of phones, computers, the archdiocese's accounting system and other items during the raids.

But Belgium's Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck defended the police action, putting the government's side of the story in a series of television interviews on Sunday.

"The bishops were treated completely normally during the raid on the archdiocese and it is not false to say that they received no food or drink," he said, referring to media reports.

De Clerck said the Vatican's reaction had been excessive as it was based on false information, dismissing the question of the police raids becoming a diplomatic incident.

However Fernand Keuleneer, the lawyer for the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese where the raids occurred, said "there is of course a diplomatic aspect to this whole matter and I think perhaps the (instructing) judge did not really sufficiently consider the diplomatic aspects."

Belgian bishops meeting with a Vatican envoy were detained and their phones, computers and other materials confiscated leaving it impossible, according to Keuleneer, for the archdiocese to function properly.

Keuleneer said Saturday the Church would consider legal action if it became clear the police raids were a mere "fishing expedition" for evidence and the action was disproportionate.

Belgian officials have been at pains to explain that the separation of powers in Belgium would not allow politicians to meddle in such judicial action.

The procedure is clearly laid out in the judicial code, the Belgian minister said, underlining the independence of the instructing judge.

"During this meeting, amongst other things, aspects linked to the abuse of minors by members of the clergy were to have been discussed," said the pope in his letter, published by the Vatican on Sunday.

"I have myself repeated numerous times that these serious facts must be dealt with by civil law and by canon law, in reciprocal respect of the specificity and autonomy of each.

Father Eric De Beukelaer, spokesman for the archdiocese, said something that the Belgian church particularly regretted was the searching of the premises of a committee probing priest paedophilia allegations.

The Church was also upset by the "violation" of cardinals' tombs in the Mechelen cathedral during which, according to a church spokesman, holes were drilled and cameras lowered into their graves.

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 Belgian Church was rocked in April when its longest-serving bishop, 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, resigned from his Bruges post after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.

According to retired priest Dirk Deville, hundreds of cases of sexual abuse had been signalled to Danneels going back to the 1990s, but himself recently denied being involved in any cover-up.