Hundreds of sex abuse victims gave harrowing accounts of abuse by Catholic priests that reportedly led to at least 13 suicides, an independent Belgian commission said today.
Professor Peter Adriaenssens, chairman of the commission, said the abuse may have been even more extensive than the 200-page report suggests, because his panel’s work was interrupted and all its files seized in a June raid by Belgian judicial authorities who are conducting their own probe.
Adriaenssens, a child psychiatrist who has worked with trauma victims for 23 years, said nothing had prepared him for the stories of abuse.
He called the report’s findings “a body blow” to the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium.
Belgian church authorities said they would react on Monday to the report. The Vatican had no immediate comment.
The report’s findings are the latest embarrassment for Belgium’s Catholic Church, which is still reeling after the April resignation of Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted to having sexually abused a nephew for years when he was a priest and bishop.
Today’s report lists 507 witnesses who came forward with stories of abuse at the hands of clergy over the past decades. It says those abused included children who were two, four, five and six years old.
Family members or friends said 13 victims committed suicide that “was related to sexual abuse by clergy,” the report said. Six other witnesses said they had attempted suicide.
“It is notable how often one issue comes back in the witness reports: the high number of suicides,” the report said.
The number of those coming forward with their stories and testimonies, however, could be only a fraction of those actually abused, Adriaenssens said. Many priests co-operated with the panel, which was founded by Belgian bishops and had the support of the church there but worked independently.
“We saw how priests, called up by the commission and asked to help seek the truth, were willing to set up the list of 10, 15, 20 victims they abused during boarding school while the commission knew only of one,” he said.
Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, who was appointed earlier this year, said he would come forward with a new initiative on Monday on how to deal with cases of abuse.