Belgian ex-church leader says not responsible for abuse

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s former top bishop told a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday into the sexual abuse of children by clerics that he was not responsible for other Belgian bishops.

Belgium’s lower house set up the inquiry to examine an issue that has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide and resulted in hundreds of victims coming forward.

Widespread sexual abuse of minors by Belgian clerics drove at least 13 victims to suicide, a Church commission said in September, recording 475 cases.

Tape recordings released in Belgium this summer made it clear that Cardinal Godfried Danneels was aware of abuse by Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe but had discouraged immediate public statements by the victim.

“I cannot give orders to other bishops. I have no legal authority over other bishoprics and I think that is at the base of a lot of the problems that have been mentioned here,” Danneels told the inquiry on Tuesday.

“I was the face of the church, it wasn’t my fault, it’s the media who did that (made Danneels appear to be the legal face of the church),” he said.

Sexual abuse in the church has cast a shadow over the legacy of Danneels, who was Belgium’s archbishop for 30 years until he retired earlier this year, and whose name had been mentioned as one of the possible successors to Pope Jean-Paul II.

Belgium’s current top bishop, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, is expected to appear at the inquiry on Wednesday.

A separate legal case in the country is looking into allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Belgian clerics.

Reporting by Ben Deighton, edited by Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck and Philippa Fletcher