Church 'stupefied' at new Belgian child sex bishop horror
The Roman Catholic Church was left "stupefied" Friday as Belgium reacted with revulsion to new child sex abuse horrors admitted by an ex-bishop that the Vatican placed in exile rather than face earthly justice.
Roger Vangheluwe told Belgian television that he abused one nephew for 13 years and another for nearly 12 months -- but that there was "no penetration" and that he did not "in the slightest" think he was a paedophile.
Days after Church bosses ordered Vangheluwe to undergo "spiritual and psychological treatment" in a French hide-out, identified by media as La Ferte-Imbault in the wine-rich Loire Valley, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme laid into remarks he said "go beyond the boundary of what is acceptable".
"The Church must assume its responsibilities -- this cannot go on," Leterme insisted.
Belgium's bishops likewise expressed collective "shock" at comments "playing down" and "offering excuses" for years spent sexually abusing boys while preaching from a pulpit -- and a Thursday night media appearance they said contravened strict orders from Rome.
"We trusted him to withdraw in silence abroad," a statement said.
In the Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI's spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See was "conscious of the gravity" of Vangheluwe's case, and was assembling "the necessary elements" for a "detailed evaluation".
He said the Belgian bishops had perfectly expressed "the feelings of stupefaction and concern aroused".
Lombardi said earlier this week that the Vatican was considering "the requirements of the justice system" in Belgium.
"This is a sick man speaking, either that or it's the standard reaction of a paedophile," noted the bishop of Tournai, Guy Harpigny.
The Belgian bishops also called for the Vatican to make a decision on Vangheluwe.
"The Vatican must impose a real sanction," Harpigny told Belgian television Friday night, noting that the bishops had been appealing to the Vatican for more than a year.
"He should not be in a French abbey," cried Flemish newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen, "but in a jail cell or in a psychiatric institution."
"How did it start?" Vangheluwe said in the interview. "As in all families: when they came to visit, my nephews would stay over.
"It began as a kind of game with this boy. It was never a question of rape, or physical violence. He never saw me naked and there was no penetration.
"I don't in the slightest have any sense I am a paedophile. I don't get the impression my nephew was opposed, quite the contrary," he added although he also admitted: "I knew it wasn't good, I confessed it several times."
He said the abuse ended when the family learned of it, but that they agreed to keep it under wraps -- Vangheluwe paying millions of old Belgian francs to the victim.
He said he had to "talk regularly" with a designated psychiatrist and reiterated an earlier defence that the abuse "ended 25 years ago", adding he had been able to "work very well" as a priest thereafter.
Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck said the comments were a "slap in the face" for all victims.
The head of a Belgian parliamentary inquiry meanwhile slammed "protection" for Vangheluwe by the Church hierarchy.
Socialist Karine Lalieux, probing a decades-long scandal of Belgian Church sex abuse extending to more than 500 victims and 13 known suicides, wants Vangheluwe "one day" to "face justice in his country and answer to his crimes".
She also backs mounting calls for the Church to compensate victims.
Vangheluwe resigned as bishop of northern Bruges last year after admitting sexual abuse between 1973 and 1986 -- blowing the lid off an unprecedented catalogue of shame following similar scandals in the United States and Germany.
The Belgian Church fought a rearguard legal action to prevent prosecutors using evidence seized in massive police raids criticised by the pope himself.
Vangheluwe's successor, Jozef De Kesel, said the latest tales of furtive nights and days under the covers had now sucked in the Church as well as the physical victims.
"I'm not speaking about our image," De Kesel said, "but about our credibility."
Any decision to defrock Vangheluwe rests ultimately with the pope.
© 2011 AFP