Belgian Bishop Roger Vangheluwe has resigned over sexual abuse of a teenager. Pope Benedict XVI. Accepted the resignation of the bishop of Bruges, as announced in Rome and Brussels on Friday.
When cases of sexual abuse by priests in other European countries came to public attention in the past weeks and months, the Belgian church still remained relatively calm. The old cases from past decades probably all came to light in the late 1990s, said Hans Geybels, former spokesman for recently retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels. At that time, in the wake of the scandal surrounding the murderer and child molester Marc Dutroux, misconduct and crimes in church circles were also brought to light. And there can't really be any more recent cases, because since then all suspected cases are reported directly to the public prosecutor's office, Geybels said. Hope is not enough. Now the wave has hit the Belgian church after all – and at the highest level. With Roger Vangheluwe (73), Bishop of Bruges, the longest-serving member of the Belgian Bishops' Conference resigned on Friday. Vangheluwe confessed to sexual abuse of a teenager – over a period of years, both as a priest and as a bishop. Several times since then, they have apologized to the victim as well as to their family. This, meanwhile, has not calmed the situation, Vangheluwe said in a statement. He had been bishop of Bruges since 1984. The victim is apparently still not well. The man was still deeply traumatized as an adult, several church officials said at a press conference. He had been abused "for years, at several developmental stages of his life". The recent abuse scandals would have reopened the wounds. Members of the family therefore wrote to all Belgian bishops on Tuesday to. And they responded. The prere caused the resignation of the Bishop of Bruges, which Pope Benedict XVI. also accepted immediately. Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels left no doubt Friday that the Belgian bishops would have asked the Vatican for impeachment proceedings against Vangheluwe if the bishop had not offered his resignation. Early on, the Belgian bishops had called for complete transparency in the investigation of abuse allegations. The testy climate in the country, heated up after the revelation of serious judicial failures in the Dutroux case, led, for example, to the establishment of a telephone hotline as early as 1998 and a commission for abuse victims in 2000. Belgian bishops expressed "deep concern" about cases of child abuse by priests even then. They said they wanted to do everything they could to help solve the crimes.
"There are no dodges when it comes to abuse" At the time, Belgium's highest-ranking churchman, then-Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels Cardinal Godfried Danneels, was also on trial in connection with abuse cases. He was charged with violating his supervisory duties over a clergyman in his diocese, who was sentenced to six years in prison for dozens of counts of child abuse. In the first instance, Danneels was sentenced to the equivalent of 12.500 euro fine imposed. On appeal, the judges acquitted the cardinal, saying there was no relationship of dependence between a bishop and a priest that could justify a conviction. Danneels' successor, Leonard, had already denounced at Easter a "culpable silence" on abuse by the church that had lasted for decades. Now he followed up. "There are no dodges when it comes to abuse," said the archbishop, who broke down in tears during the press conference. "We are aware of the crisis of confidence."He said he hoped that this clarity would help restore the victim's dignity and contribute to his recovery. The aim is to put an end to a period of time not so long ago "when silence and cover-up were preferred as a solution in the church and elsewhere".