VATICAN CITY/BRUSSELS A Belgian Catholic bishop resigned on Friday after admitting he had sexually abused a boy when in charge of the diocese of Bruges.
"When I was still a simple priest, and for a while when I began as a bishop, I sexually abused a boy in my close entourage," the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, said in a statement issued at a news conference in Brussels.
"I profoundly regret what I have done and I present my sincerest apology to the victim, his family, the Catholic community and society in general," said the 73-year-old.
The abuse took place more than 20 years ago. It was not clear how old the boy was when the abuse began or how long it lasted.
Vangheluwe stepped down after a person close to the victim complained to the church. His is the first such case in Belgium, although a church commission said it was investigating about 20 other cases involving sex abuse allegations.
Hundreds of instances of abuse by clergymen have come to light in Europe and the United States in the last month as disclosures encouraged victims to go public with their allegations.
Vangheluwe was born in the western town of Roeselare and was ordained as a priest in Bruges at the age of 26. He was appointed bishop of the historic city aged 48, a role he held for 25 years until his resignation on Friday.
Vangheluwe had a high profile at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, one of Belgium's leading universities, where he often delivered a homily at the beginning of the academic year. He also sat on the steering committee of a local charity.
(Reporting by Stephen Brown in Rome and Ben Deighton in Brussels; editing by Robert Woodward)