Belgian sex abuse priests scandal linked to 13 suicides

10th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Belgian Catholic Church-backed commission released harrowing testimony Friday from around 500 cases of alleged sex abuse involving more than 100 victims, 13 of whom were driven to suicide.

The testimony from victims of clergy and church workers reveals 13 suicides and six attempted suicides "in relation to sexual abuse by a cleric," said the report published by the Commission on Church-related Sexual Abuse Complaints, set up by the Catholic Church.

The commission headed by independent child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens said it had looked into 475 complaints between January and June this year.

"It's the Church's Dutroux," Adriaenssens said at a news conference, referring to the mid-1990s trauma caused in Belgium by the arrest of serial rapist and killer Marc Dutroux -- serving life for six rapes and four murders.

The scale of the abuse stunned the church.

"We realise that we were totally misinformed and that we weren't aware of the gravity of the situation and that these victims were hurt for life," said the Bishop of Tournai, Guy Harpigny.

"Some committed suicide. This is extremely serious. Mindsets are changing and I think the church authorities are also ready to act towards change," added the bishop, who has been tasked with looking at paedophilia in the church.

Most of the complaints received by the commission were related to charges of sexual abuse committed between the 1950s and the late 1980s by Catholic clergy, but also by teachers of religion and adults working with youth movements.

The victims are today generally aged between 50 and 60.

The 200-page report which contains testimonies from some 124 anonymous "survivors" -- as they are called -- reveal that the sexual abuse for most victims began at age 12, although one was two years old, five were aged four, eight aged five and 10 aged seven, the report said.

While the description of the alleged sex abuser is often imprecise, where verification had been made 102 were found to have been members of some 29 religious orders, the report said.

"We can say that no congregation escapes sexual abuse of minors by one or several of its members," the report's authors wrote.

Two-thirds of the alleged victims were male, it noted.

The commission said it received most of its testimony after the forced resignation in April of the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted having sexually abused his nephew between 1973 and 1986.

A woman in the report testified that she was abused at age 17 by a priest and tried to seek help from a bishop in 1983.

"I told him 'I have a problem with one of your priests'. He told me: 'Ignore him and he will leave you alone'," she said.

The commission, whose report is available at, concluded that the victims deserve "a courageous Church which is not afraid to confront its vulnerability, to recognise it, to cooperate in finding fair responses."

The commission members resigned en masse in June after their files were seized in raids by Belgian judicial authorities.

Judges initially struck off from admissible evidence the fruits of a search at the commission's offices.

Then on Thursday a Belgian appeals court deemed parallel raids on the church headquarters in Brussels and at the home of its former top cardinal disproportionate, and ordered that the material seized there be returned, with prosecutors unable to use it.

The country's current archbishop, Andre-Joseph Leonard, said "it is in everyone's interests that the fundamental rules of law are respected."

Former archbishop, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has been accused of trying to cover up several affairs to protect the image of the church.

The church is due to present a fresh "initiative" next Monday aimed at helping victims of sexual abuse by priests.

© 2010 AFP

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