World News

Belgian church HQ searched over abuse accusations

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian police investigating sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests raided central Church offices on Thursday and searched the home of the former archbishop.

Police sought evidence to document abuse cases in offices of the Brussels archdiocese and in the home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who stepped down in January as head of the Belgian Church after holding that position since 1979.

In Leuven, they also searched the office of the Church commission that has been tracking complaints and compiling evidence about sexual abuse of minors by Belgian priests.

“These are searches based on some allegations made to the Brussels prosecutor denouncing sexual abuse of minors by certain people in the Church,” a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said. He said several clerics were implicated but gave no names.

Judicial searches of archdiocesan headquarters or homes of cardinals are extremely rare, even in cases of sexual abuse allegations. In several European countries, independent panels have been set up in which church and state cooperate.

The raid in Mechelen, a town outside the Belgian capital where the Brussels archdiocese is based, came while the country’s bishops were meeting there, a Church statement said.

It said the current Brussels archbishop, Andre-Joseph Leonard, “has always been clear in saying that there must be a zero-tolerance in matters of sexual abuse.”

Allegations of sexual abuse of minors have haunted the Catholic Church in Europe since two damning government reports in Ireland exposed the extent of the hidden scandals there.

The shock of those two reports prompted victims of abuse, sometimes committed decades ago, to speak up in other countries, especially Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria.

The Belgian Church seemed to be less tainted until the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April and admitted he had sexually abused before and after becoming a bishop.

Reporting by Ben Deighton, editing by Tom Heneghan and Ralph Boulton