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The police must justify the raid on the Belgian Church

The Church’s annus horribilis continues

By on Thursday, 1 July 2010

The police must justify the raid on the Belgian Church

The Church’s annus horribilis continues: last Thursday Belgian police sealed off St Rumbold’s Cathedral in Mechelen, detaining the nine bishops who were meeting there. They seized computers and hundreds of files and broke into the tombs of the anti-Nazi Cardinal van Roey and the Vatican II reformer Cardinal Suenens. The police also raided the home of the retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels and the offices of the Adriaenssens Commission, the body established by the Church to examine abuse allegations.

The raid was widely applauded by critics of the Catholic Church. It was about time, they said, that clerics were treated like any other suspected law-breakers. And they pointed out that until this year the Belgian Church had been in no hurry to investigate abuse accusations.

But the picture is more complicated than the Church’s critics will allow. The Belgian police also have an exceedly poor record of protecting children. They repeatedly failed to apprehend Marc Dutroux, one of the worst child abusers in modern European history. They have as yet offered no credible reason for violating the tombs of two revered Church leaders.

Those who complained to the Adriaenssens Commission believed that they were doing so in confidence. Some victims now fear that their allegations will be made public without their consent. This is why the commission decided to close this week and also why Benedict XVI wrote a letter to Archbishop Léonard condemning the police raid. The media presented the letter as an “attack” on the Belgian authorities but failed to convey its nuances. The letter robustly supported the investigation of all complaints against Belgian clergy.

We cannot properly judge the raid until we know precisely what information the Belgian police were acting on. But the burden is on them to explain how their actions will achieve justice for the abused.

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  • Medguy42

    I applaud the Belgian police for their actions. The pope has promised to do everything possible to end
    the abuse of children. But the interested thing is that he seems to have no intention of telling Catholics
    that they should turn to local police FIRST, and then report suspected abuses to the Church. Anyone
    can see that this would be the most likely way to avoid “mistakes” and “poor judgment” on the part of
    Church officials. Every time someone tells the police about an incident with a priest, there you have
    one allegation that won't get swept under a rug through poor judgment or mistakes by a bishop,
    cardinal, archbishop or pope. The police will know about the situation. The pope alludes to autonomy,
    and that is frightening. He really believes that what he and other top Vatican leaders do does not have
    to follow the laws of any city, state or nation…except Vatican City. Wrong. I look forward to seeing police in other cities treat Church officials accused of crimes the way other suspects are treated.

  • James H

    Any organisation that has members accused of crimes always carries out an internal investigation first. That applies to schools, hospitals and the military, as well as churches. The Pope has said, on more than one occasion, that there should always be full cooperation with statutory authorities.

    My personal worry comes from Belgium being notorious for hiding paedophilia: they were the last country in Europe to implement child-protection legislation, and there have been cases where investigations into public figures were stopped by the government. If the police were acting on a tip-off, why didn't they say so? If they were directed to raid by someone who might be implicated by the Adriaenssens Commission, that is extremely worrying. They've had nearly a week, and there's been no triumphant announcement from them yet.