Police raid Belgian Catholic HQ in child sex probe
Police raided the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church on Thursday following fresh accusations of child sex abuse involving priests.
The latest blow to the scandal-hit Roman Catholic Church came as a meeting of bishops took place in the presence of the Vatican's ambassador to Belgium, in Mechelen, just north of Brussels.
"Within the context of a recent investigation, prosecutors have been informed of accusations denouncing abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures," a spokesman for Brussels prosecutors told AFP.
About 30 officers and investigators sealed off the palace of the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels "in order to establish if these accusations are backed up or not," said Jean-Marc Meilleur, without giving any more details.
Some 450 submissions to a special commission set up to examine complaints received of child abuse in the past and housed in the archdiocese premises were taken by officers.
Dutch-language daily De Standaard reported that authorities also wanted to ensure that all accusations received by Catholic leaders in the country had been transmitted to the independent body.
The man who led Belgium's Catholic Church for two decades until the turn of the year, Godfried Danneels, was himself "escorted" to the site by investigators, private Flemish TV channel VTM reported.
The channel said that the documents held by the independent commission were supposed to have been passed over "discreetly" to justice officials, but that clearly that had not yet been done as expected.
The Roman Catholic Church in Belgium has endured some of the worst of the paedophilia scandals to beset the Vatican, having been rocked in April when its longest-serving bishop, 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, resigned from his Bruges post after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.
Danneels's successor as the leader of Belgium's Catholics, Andre-Joseph Leonard, has vowed a zero-tolerance approach to the issue since taking over as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.
In May, all of Belgium's bishops publicly begged forgiveness from victims both for the actions of paedophile priests and for the Church's "silence" down the years.
According to retired priest Dirk Deville, hundreds of cases of sexual abuse had been signalled to authorities going back to the 1990s, but only a "fraction" came to Danneels' attention in his 20 years at the helm.
Paedophile priest scandals and allegations of high-level cover-ups have surged again since last year across Europe, the United States and Brazil.
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI begged for forgiveness in his clearest apology yet for the scourge.
"We... insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again," he said.
The pope himself has faced allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the Vatican's chief morals enforcer, he helped to protect predator priests.
He has condemned paedophile priests several times, and met with abuse victims in Australia, the United States and Malta.
© 2010 AFP