Police must return all documents seized during a raid on Church headquarters in June

The Brussels department of public prosecutions has reportedly ruled that the June police raid on Church property was “irregular”.

Police searched the offices of the Archdiocese of Mechlin-Brussels, the home of the retired Cardinal Gottfried Danneels and the offices of the Church commission for sexual abuse on June 24. The Belgian bishops, who were holding their monthly meeting, were detained for over nine hours and telephones and documents were confiscated.

The raid was known as “Operation Kelk”, or Operation Chalice. Police also broke into the tombs of two cardinals in search of hidden documents. They seized 476 dossiers on abuse cases, the 140 metre-long archdiocesan archives as well as computers and a laptop belonging to Cardinal Danneels.

Victims of abuse who had approached the abuse commission confidentially protested against the seizure of their dossiers as did doctors who were involved.

Cardinal Daneels’s lawyer Fernand Keuleneer told journalists on Friday that the department of public prosecutions had ruled that the police’s actions were illegal, which means that all the seized goods must be returned and all investigations based on information in the documents must be dropped.

Mr Keuleneer challenged the legality of the police raid on behalf of the Church and Cardinal Danneels after the investigating judge, Wim De Troy, refused to return the documents which had been confiscated from the Church’s abuse commission.

According to De Staandard, Mr De Troy remains in charge of the investigations of the Church’s role in covering up clerical sex abuse, but it is questionable how much of the confiscated material he will be able to use for his investigations.

The department of public prosecutions came to its decision on Friday but refused to comment or make public its findings. These are expected to be confirmed in September.

At the time of the raid the Vatican secretariat of state formally indicated its shock and indignation over the manner in which the police had conducted its searches to the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See.

Pope Benedict XVI addressed a letter of solidarity to the Belgian bishops in which he described the raids as “surprising and deplorable”.

The chairman of the Church abuse commission, Peter Adriaenssens, resigned after the raid, saying that the police’s seizure of the dossiers made it impossible for the commission to continue its work.

He told RTBF last week that the raids were most probably detrimental to the victims of abuse.

Professor Adriaenssens said: “Of the 500 dossiers which we had, a third of the victims wanted to transfer the files to the civil authorities, whereas the others wished for discretion. If the civil authorities take up all the dossiers, it is unjust for certain people.”

He also said there needed to be a better relationship between the Church and the civil authorities.

“There needs to be a point of entry which is much more clear for the victims. And there should be another word chosen in the place of ‘commission’. ‘Reconnaissance centre’ or ‘truth committee’ would have been more adequate,” he said.

Earlier this year, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges resigned after admitting he had repeatedly abused his nephew, a minor, while he was a priest. Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation immediately.