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THE Belgian Roman Catholic Church yesterday acknowledged widespread sexual abuse over years by its clergy and pleaded for time to set up a system to punish all abusers and provide closure for victims.
The comments were in response to a report last Friday in which hundreds of sex abuse victims revealed harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy throughout the country over the past 50 years.
At a news conference yesterday, Belgium’s Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard said “a feeling of anger and powerlessness” had taken hold of the Church.
“The report and the suffering it contains make us shiver,” he told reporters. He said the crisis gripping the Church is so deep it would be impossible to find an easy way out.
The report, by an independent panel with links to the Church, highlighted claims by surviving family members that at least 13 victims committed suicide as a result of the abuse by clergy. Hundreds more victims complained about trauma that plagued them, sometimes up to 50 years after the abuse.
The report stressed that the abuse went well beyond touching and often centred on oral and anal abuse, forced masturbation and mutual masturbation.
It said there was abuse in each sector of the Church, especially at Catholic boarding schools, and throughout the nation. Most of the abuse happened during the 1960s and 1970s.
The panel’s report was the latest embarrassment for Belgium’s 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 decades ago.
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