It really couldn't have come at a worse time. With a television interview conducted from France, the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe (74), caused a storm of indignation. Belgium's Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck called for consequences from the church, church leaders expressed speechlessness and horror.
On Thursday evening, the private Flemish television station VT4 surprised viewers with the exclusive interview, which was conducted in the central French town of Salbris. Somewhere in the Loire Valley, Vangheluwe has been staying in a monastery since the Vatican recently ordered him to leave Belgium in a first measure and to receive spiritual and psychological care. Abuse victims had derided this measure as "vacation like God in France". Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi hastened to are that further measures could follow.
Vangheluwe himself, however, sees no reason in the interview to be transferred back to the lay state. Even the psychological support seems excessive to him. After all, he said, the assaults had ended 25 years ago, and he could not understand why now, a quarter of a century later, he should suddenly need treatment.
"Started as a game"
It all started "as a game," says the 74-year-old when asked how it all began in 1976 with his nephew, who was five years old at the time. Because there were not enough sleeping accommodations, the nephew had lain with him in bed during family visits. 13 years went by in what Vangheluwe described in the interview as, "It was not raw sexuality." This had not gone far, "it was a bit of a relationship". And finally: Yes, in the beginning a few times, this had also "happened a little bit" with a second nephew.
Jurgen Mettepenningen, a Belgian theologian and spokesman for the Belgian Bishops' Conference for a short time last year, said he felt sick to his stomach after the interview. Josef De Kesel, Vangheluwe's successor as bishop of Bruges, spoke of powerlessness, grief, pain, horror. His brother bishop Harpigny, bishop of Tournai, expressed the suspicion that Vangheluwe was a seriously ill man. All expressed shock at the effect the interview must have had on victims of abuse.
The conversation also caused consternation in Belgian politics. The church must react, demanded Justice Minister De Clerck and Defense Minister Pieter De Crem, both center politicians. The Socialists have demanded that the ex-bishop's pension of around 2.800 euros a month to block. Greens and liberals also expressed horror and concern.
Victim advocates pointed out that some of what Vengheluwe said could not be true and had long since been disproven. The responsible public prosecutor's office was quoted in the media as saying that the second case of abuse, which has now been admitted, is also time-barred under criminal law.
Numerous new cases of abuse
For Belgium's church, Vangheluwe's appearance is more than inconvenient. A year ago, his resignation triggered a scandal that is still far from being resolved. Tongues loosened in the wake of his confession. Numerous new cases of abuse in the church came to light – most of them long time barred by the statute of limitations. The Belgian judiciary used sometimes brutal methods to investigate whether there had been a cover-up on the part of those responsible for the church. A parliamentary committee of inquiry spent months investigating the events; only a few weeks ago it presented its final report.
Behavior bishops criticized the Vatican, which took a long time to draw conclusions from the abuse case Vangheluwe. Antwerp Bishop Johan Bonny let it be known publicly that he missed a word on the seriousness of the crime and an apology to the victims in the communication on the first measures taken against the ex-bishop. Bishop Guy Harpigny of Tournai now expressed the hope that the Vatican would react "as it should".