Belgian cardinal says no 'conscious' sex-abuse cover-up

21st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The former head of Belgium's Roman Catholic Church denied Tuesday before a parliamentary panel into a child sex scandal that top bishops "consciously" covered up abuse cases.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels spent four hours being quizzed by Belgian lawmakers at a hearing into the scandal of nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests and church workers since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.

Expressing his "horror" at the revelations produced by a church-backed commission this year, Danneels, the church's chief between 1979 and 2009, said "there was no drive to consciously cover up the sexual abuse or deny it."

The 77-year-old said he wanted to "explicitly acknowledge and express very clearly my horror for what (the victims) endured at the hands of servants of the church."

He said perpetrators should "pay damages as established by justice" but refused to say if the church itself should pay victims.

"This decision will be taken in the coming weeks by the conference of bishops, of which I am no longer a member," he said.

Danneels' successor, Andre-Joseph Leonard, will appear before lawmakers on Wednesday, the same day a court is expected to decide if truckloads of evidence seized by police in spectacular raids on the Belgian Catholic Church HQ are admissible in judicial proceedings.

Leonard sparked a storm of criticism in October when he implied that elderly priests who sexually abused children long ago should be spared.

After paedophile scandals struck the Catholic Church in Ireland, the United States and Austria, Belgium was stunned in April when the bishop of Bruges resigned after admitting that he abused his nephew in the 1970s-1980s.

Danneels said he tried to handle abuse cases in a "serious and structural manner" especially following the case of notorious Belgian child killer Marc Dutroux that shocked Belgium in the 1990s.

If he did not provide the names of priests suspected of paedophilia to the authorities, it was because he had "never received" precise accusations related to his diocese and had no power to act in the rest of the country, he said.

"It is incredible for him to say that because he knew about at least 200 cases," former priest Rik Deville, who has denounced the church's paedophilia problem since the 1990s, said on the sidelines of the parliamentary hearing.

Although Danneels said "justice must be served," he criticised the actions of investigative judge Wim De Troy who led the raids on church headquarters and the cardinal's home in June.

The appeals court in Brussels rejected on Wednesday a request from the church and Danneels to remove De Troy from the case following the raids.

The swoops had drawn the anger of the pope, with church officials indicating that police had even inserted cameras into tombs in the Mechelen cathedral and priests reporting that they were denied sustenance over long hours.

They took place as Belgium's bishops were meeting with a Vatican emissary, and also saw computers and bishops' mobile telephones confiscated in an effort to uncover electronic evidence to support allegations of cover-ups.

© 2010 AFP

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