Belgium child sex victims sue Holy See
Dozens of victims of a child sex scandal in the Belgian Catholic church on Wednesday announced the launch of legal action against the Holy See.
Lawyers and victims said at a news conference a summons was on its way to Rome as well as to Belgian bishops to appear before a Belgian civil court for failing to stop sexual abuse by priests and church workers under their responsibility.
The group of some 80 plaintiffs, which lawyers said was growing by the day, said it was the first time in Europe that legal proceedings had been initiated against the church authorities.
"The Pope is the head of the Holy See," said the lawyer for the plaintiffs Walter Van Steenbrugge. "He is the appointer and authority over the bishops, which means that he can be liable for their errors. In addition, he can be held liable for his own faults.
"He neglected to intervene himself and to give instructions, which meant that abuse was liable to continue and the damage was able to increase."
The Belgian Church was last year rocked by revelations of nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 known suicides among victims.
Several of the victims, men in their 50s and 60s, said they had suffered throughout their lives from sexual abuse and "abuse of power" inflicted on them as children by priests and church workers.
The scandal in the Belgian church surfaced last April with revelations that the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had abused a nephew for 13 years. Earlier this year he confessed in an interview to abusing another for nearly 12 months.
He was sent by the Vatican to a French monastic retreat to undergo spiritual reflection, but has left and his subsequent whereabouts have not been revealed.
Vangheluwe's interview shocked believers worldwide and left the Vatican "stupefied," days after it had placed him in exile.
© 2011 AFP