/ 2 July 2010

Catholic church raids deplorable, says pope

Groups representing victims of clerical abuse expressed outrage this week after the pope criticised raids on the Catholic church by Belgian police.

Last week police raided the home of a retired bishop, probed graves and detained Belgium’s nine current serving bishops for nine hours.

Pope Benedict described the raids as “surprising and deplorable” and demanded that the church be allowed a role in inquiries into child molesters in its ranks.

In a message to the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, Monsignor André-Joseph Léonard, the pontiff condemned the raids and offered his support to the bishops “in this sad moment”. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, said: “There are no precedents for this, not even under communist regimes.”

But the raids were welcomed by the American clerical abuse victims’ group, Snap. “Vatican officials who criticise the Belgian police raid of the Brussels church hierarchy should be ashamed of themselves,” said Snap’s Joelle Casteix. “While Roman church officials talk about stopping abuse, Belgian police officials take action to stop abuse.”

As cases of abuse by priests have emerged throughout Europe this year, the Belgian church has apologised for failing to root out abusers in the past and promised a crackdown.

On Friday the pope appointed Monsignor Jozef de Kesel as the bishop of Bruges to replace Roger Vangheluwe (73), who resigned in April for abusing a boy. Vangheluwe was the first European bishop to step down after confessing to abuse.

Police took documents and a computer from the home of his predecessor, Godfried Danneels, and seized documents from an independent panel investigating 500 cases of suspected abuse by priests.

Last week police drilled into the tombs of two archbishops at the cathedral in Mechelen, north of Brussels, using cameras to look for hidden documents, a church official said. —