Belgian Catholic Church to 'screen' for paedophile priests

20th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Belgium's Roman Catholic hierarchy, drawing lessons from a child sex scandal rocking the church, has decided to subject would-be priests to psychological tests to weed out potential paedophiles.

"The church must do a better job to protect children," the head of the Belgian church, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, told VTM television late Monday on announcing the new measures.

Under a new code of conduct soon to be released to prevent any reccurence of child abuse by its priests, men who enter a seminary will be tested from the outset and subjected to regular psychological testing before being ordained.

After similar scandals in the United States, Ireland and Germany, the country was rocked in April 2010 with revelations that the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had abused a nephew for 13 years.

Vangheluwe's subsequent decision to quit opened a floodgate of allegations of abuse, with a report a year ago revealing almost 500 cases of alleged abuse in Catholic institutions since the 1950s, including 13 known suicides by victims.

Last week, some 70 alleged vicitims filed joint legal action against the Belgian church and the Holy See, the first such class action suit in Belgium and the first such suit involving the Vatican in Europe.

Lawyers and victims in the town of Gent said the action against Rome and Belgian bishops was for failing to stop sexual abuse by priests and church workers under their responsibility.

Accused of showing little compassion for victims as evidence of misconduct piled up, the Belgian church in June offered compensation via an as yet inexistent arbitration panel suggested by parliament.

The focus of the new tests will be celibacy, the clinical psychologist who is to head the new testing programme said in an interview Tuesday to the Flemish daily De Standaard.

"These youngsters are just out of adolescence and celibacy is a difficult choice," said Joseph Corveleyn, a professor of clinical psychology at the Catholic University of Louvain.

"I will want to know if they chose the priesthood simply because, for instance, they have fears about sexuality or intimacy or whether they have other problems linked to sex," he said.

"If this is the case I will ask that they be followed by psychologists or that they give up the idea of the priesthood," he added.

Last week, an international group for victims of sexual abuse by priests said they were suing Pope Benedict XVI through the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it had filed a complaint calling on the ICC to "take action and prosecute the Pope" for "direct and superior responsibility for the crimes against humanity of rape and other sexual violence committed around the world."

© 2011 AFP

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