Belgium dismisses Church child sex probe evidence
Appeal judges on Tuesday ruled inadmissible evidence seized by Belgian police in dramatic raids on the Catholic Church after insider tips about decades of abuse causing hundreds of victims.
The raids, condemned by the Vatican after officers stunned a conference of Belgium's Roman Catholic bishops in June 2010, unearthed truckloads of material prosecutors hoped to use to bring leading Church figures to justice.
Judges said evidence gleaned from computers, mobile phones and paper records seized from the Church headquarters and the home of Belgium's former archbishop, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, must be dismissed and returned.
They said police were not free to act on a tip-off by a former head of a Church-appointed investigating commission, separate evidence taken from its offices having already been ruled inadmissible last year on the grounds officers acted in a heavy-handed way.
The Vatican and Church workers were angered by investigators' decision at the time to confiscate mobile phones and keep bishops locked up while searching as television news vans massed outside.
"I am naturally very pleased," Cardinal Danneels' lawyer Fernand Keuleneer told Belgian television. "My clients have nothing against a judicial investigation, but it has to be properly handled.
"The magistrate overstepped the mark," he added.
Christine Mussche, representing a group of victims, said the decision made their search for justice "difficult".
After similar scandals in the United States, Ireland and Germany, Belgium was rocked in April 2010 with revelations that the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had abused a nephew for 13 years.
Having been placed in seclusion in a French abbey, he then vanished from view after rendering the Vatican "stupefied" when he went on television to announce he had also abused a second family member.
© 2011 AFP