Lawyer bids to haul Vatican before Belgian civil court

29th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

A lawyer is bidding to haul the Vatican before a Belgian civil court on charges of "culpable negligence," seeking damages for dozens of victims of a decades-long priest child sex scandal.

Walter Van Steenbrugge told Belgium's Le Soir newspaper that a "summons to appear before the court will be ready this weekend," targeting "the Holy See and several physical persons," representing the Belgian Roman Catholic Church.

The Belgian Catholic Church was last year rocked by revelations of nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 known suicides among victims.

Pope Benedict XVI however denounced police raids that saw truckloads of evidence seized from the bowels of the Belgian church's headquarters, and the church hierarchy fought a legal battle to prevent prosecutors from using the material.

The scandal resurfaced this month when Roger Vangheluwe, whose resignation as bishop of Bruges opened the floodgates to victims' testimony, told Belgian television that he abused one nephew for 13 years and another for nearly 12 months.

Vangheluwe's interview shocked believers worldwide and left the Vatican "stupefied," days after it had placed him in exile.

Van Steenbrugge said the case he wants brought before a Belgian civil judge is based on the Vatican and the Belgian church's "civil responsability, having analysed their attitude towards sexual abuse, as much at the time when the abuses were committed as today."

The lawyer said Pope Benedict XVI "is supposed to set an example... it's time he did just that."

The summons being prepared is based on "recent declarations by Ratzinger," a reference to the German pope's name prior to becoming pontiff, Joseph Ratzinger, and by the head of the Belgian Catholic church, Andre-Joseph Leonard.

Van Steenbrugge said they "make out they are fighting sexual abuse, but they are doing quite the opposite -- protecting abusers, hailing their protectors, excommunicating those who denounce the facts."

After the press descended on a French monastic retreat where Vangheluwe was ordered to undergo spiritual reflection, the former bishop left the abbey and his subsequent whereabouts have not been revealed.

© 2011 AFP

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