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Ex-priest says he reported Belgian bishop abuse

A retired priest said Saturday that he told church authorities years ago about allegations that Belgium's longest-serving bishop had abused a boy but he was stonewalled until the bishop was forced to resign.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A retired priest said Saturday that he told church authorities years ago about allegations that Belgium's longest-serving bishop had abused a boy but he was stonewalled until the bishop was forced to resign.

Retired priest Rik Deville told The Associated Press that he transmitted the allegations to then-Archbishop Godfried Danneels between 15 and 17 years ago after learning of them from a confidant of the victim's family.

Danneels said he had no recollections of Deville's allegations at the time.

Roger Vangheluwe, the bishop of the Belgian city of Bruges, 73, resigned Friday and expressed sorrow for having sexually abused the boy.

The Vatican is moving to get rid of bishops tainted by the scandal — either those directly responsible of abusing children or ones who had sought to shield abusive priests. A Vatican spokesman said Saturday that the Catholic Church is capable of healing the wounds inflicted on it by the scandal, which has hit Europe and the United States.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said a recent meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and abuse victims in Malta brought the victims new hope. He said the meeting had been held in the context of a living, dynamic church that is "capable of recognizing its wounds sincerely but also of obtaining the grace of healing."

"We needed this message," Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

In recent days Benedict also accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who acknowledged failing to report abuse to police.

Two more Irish bishops have offered to resign and the pope is expected to agree. There are also mounting calls for the country's top prelate, Cardinal Sean Brady, to leave because of his handling of the case of a notorious child rapist.

In Belgium, Deville was a priest in the Buizingen parish just south of Brussels for almost three decades before retiring last year, but beginning in 1992 he said he had increasingly received reports of sexual abuse by other priests and clergy.

Deville said that when he realized that a bishop was allegedly involved in such cases he was forced to go to Archbishop Danneels himself.

Deville said Danneels shouldn't deny that. "There was no way not to hear what I told him," the retired priest told The Associated Press. "It was extremely serious business at the time."

Danneels said Saturday that "with the best will in the world I cannot remember such a discussion."

"I would be extremely surprised if I would not have given it attention," he told reporters.

Deville said he had brought many allegations of sexual abuse by clergy in Belgium forward in the 1990s, but they were either ignored or privately dealt with within the church.

Deville said when he reported alleged abuses to Danneels, "sometimes he got angry and said it was not my job, that I should not get involved."

Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, who succeeded Danneels early this year, has urged any victim of sexual abuse by clergy to come forward. He told Saturday's edition of De Standaard that culprits and victims alike should tell their story to make prosecution or religious sanctions possible. "The time of silence and cover-ups is a thing of the past," he said.

Abuse victims have called on church officials, including Pope Benedict XVI, to take personal responsibility for clerical abuse. They say that a culture of cover-up and secrecy has allowed priests to rape and molest children unchecked for decades.

"The time has come for truth, transparency and credibility," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Lombardi as saying Saturday. "The situation we are going through is extremely demanding and it requires us to be absolutely truthful and credible."

Lombardi, who was speaking at a meeting organized by the Italian Bishops' Conference, also called for "rigor and the refusal of any hypocrisy."

Hundreds of people have reported cases of abuse by priests at schools, orphanages and other church-run institutions. Victims say bishops and other church higher-ups covered up the crimes, choosing to protect the church rather than children.

The scandal has swept across Europe, including in Benedict's native Germany, and elsewhere.

This week, the Vatican has said it would do everything in its power to bring justice to abusive priests and implement "effective measures" to protect children.

Benedict himself recounted his tearful meeting with Maltese victims, and promised action to confront the scandal. Neither Benedict nor the Vatican has elaborated on what action or measures are being considered.

The Vatican recently published guidelines instructing bishops to report abuse to police when civil laws require it. The Vatican insists that has long been church policy, though it was never before explicitly written.


Rizzo reported from Vatican City.