Belgian Cardinal denies cover-up of bishop sex abuse

24th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels on Saturday denied covering up sex abuses committed by the bishop of Bruges, who has admitted the charges and resigned.

A retired priest, Rik Deville, said after the abuse came to light on Friday that he had informed the cardinal of the matter in the 1990s, but had received no response.

The cardinal, who stood down as Belgian primate last year, denied Deville's charges.

"I cannot recall such a conversation and it would astonish me if I had paid no attention to such a message or had forgotten it," Danneels told a press conference following the allegations.

"I never made the slightest attempt to cover up the abuses of bishop Roger Vangheluwe in a cloak of secrecy," the former Belgian primate insisted.

Belgium's longest-serving bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, now 73, admitted Friday he sexually abused an unnamed young boy before and after his appointment in 1985, in a letter read out to reporters by a church official.

While scant details were given about the case, a church official said the time limit for criminal action against the bishop had expired.

"This will be very saddening to the Belgian Catholic community. We are aware of the crisis of confidence that this will engender for a number of people," Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, current head of the Belgian church, said Friday.

The disgraced bishop offered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican confirmed that the resignation had been accepted under a canon law provision for "illness" or unspecified "other serious reasons," and that Vangheluwe was "reduced to lay status", meaning he was stripped of his priesthood.

Danneels had said Friday he was informed of the Vangheluwe affair at the beginning of April and organised a meeting between the paedophile bishop and his victim.

A church enquiry into the matter has now been launched.

The Roman Catholic Church, which is battling a tide of revelations of child sexual abuse by its priests in Europe and the Americas, must show it has "nothing to hide," the Vatican spokesman said Saturday.

Vangheluwe became the first bishop to resign due to sexual abuses he himself committed, another low for the church.

The Belgian church has called on all padeophile offenders to admit their crimes and for their victims to make complaints, setting up an independent committee which the victim's family in the Vangheluwe case contacted.

In Brussels on Wednesday, the church apologised as another priest lost his appeal against paedophile charges ranging over seven years.

© 2010 AFP

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