ANN CAHILL: Belgium’s victims of clerical abuse believe Church won’t change

TODAY in Belgium a Catholic priest, hidden by the Oblate fathers for the past decade, will hand himself over to police after Interpol issued what is termed a “red notice”, which requests information about his whereabouts.

He served a few months of a jail sentence in Canada where he had raped Inuit children in the remote region where he was preaching the word of God. He had continued to abuse children on his release and is now wanted in connection with other instances of abuse.

Today, the Catholic Church in Belgium will also hold a press conference in response to the report it commissioned into sexual abuse in the country.

The report, under the chairmanship of a child psychologist, pulls no punches. It gives a voice to victims and includes the testimony of several of them. Everybody is now waiting to see what the Church’s next move is.

But the very appearance of Cardinal and Bishops speaking about the report is an indication that little will change, according to the nephew of the former Bishop of Bruges who abused him since the age of seven.

The bishop was forced to resign eventually after the deeply disturbed nephew went public, but his colleagues in the hierarchy, the people who at best ignored but at worst covered up his acts, are still in control and today take centre stage.

The nephew understandably enough sees this as adding insult to injury and believes they should all resign. After all, anybody with knowledge of wrongdoing and fails to report it can be charged with being an accessory.

Whether the authorities move against them is another issue. One lawyer, representing up to 30 victims, said he hopes to take civil actions against the Church even if criminal charges cannot be pursued. He said yesterday: “In the 90s, the victims were like little birds – powerless to act. But now that the case of the former Bishop of Bruges has exploded, they have found the strength to act.”

The Church has paid out millions to victims around the globe even as it has taken steps to protect its assets elsewhere. But money does not meet the victims’ needs.

One of the Belgian victims offers his own analysis. His complaint, he says, is not against the two men who regularly attacked him. “They were probably very unhappy and lonely and tried to survive and take some scraps of affection where they could find it.

“My complaint is against the Catholic Church that has created this unhealthy system. Until you understand that this is where the problem lies, no action will help really.”

He goes on to say that the recent attack on homosexuals by the Church is simply an effort to find a scapegoat and divert attention from the real problem, and an attempt to confuse paedophilia with being gay. “This is an insult to our intelligence,” he adds.

Others too believe that as long as men are forced to be celibate and women are excluded, there is little hope of fundamental reform.

Pope Benedict may have offered an apology of sorts to Irish and other victims over the past year, but there is no evidence the Church is looking inside itself to resolve the problems. The Vatican seems to be intent on telling the public that they are wrong.


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