Vatican keeps up attacks on Belgian abuse raid

26th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Vatican returned to the attack Saturday over police raids in Belgium investigating new child abuse claims against Roman Catholic clergy.

Vatican number two Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said the detaining of a number of bishops during the raid was "serious and unbelievable", comparing it to the practices of communist regimes.

On Friday the Vatican voiced "astonishment" at how the searches were carried out and "indignation" at what it called the violation of the graves of two cardinals.

Police had raided several buildings of the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese, including the episcopal palace at Mechelen, north of the Belgian capital, as bishops were meeting with a Vatican envoy on Thursday.

The police confiscated the bishops' phones for several hours and prevented them from leaving the building during the search.

"It was sequestration, a serious and unbelievable act", Italy's ANSA news agency quoted Bertone, the Vatican secretary general, as saying. "They went for nine hours without eating or drinking," he charged.

"There is no precedent, even under the old communist regimes," Bertone said.

The search had focused on letters exchanged between alleged victims of paedophile priests and Church authorities.

The Brussels prosecutor's office admitted that a crypt was searched, while refusing to confirm the complaints that the tombs of two cardinals had been tampered with.

"All I can say is that a vault was opened" during the investigation, a spokeswoman said.

Father Eric De Beukelaer, spokesman for the Mechelen-Brussels archbishop, said the tombs were drilled and a camera pushed in, "apparently to see whether there were any hidden documents" linked to the paedophilia claims.

That search was unsuccessful, according to the spokesman.

The current head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, said the authorities had shown "perhaps excessive zeal."

"The justice system does its work and it has the right to carry out searches. Nonetheless I find it slightly surprising that it went as far as rummaging around the tombs ... and that all the bishops were held until evening," Leonard told reporters in Brussels.

The Brussels prosecutors said the raid, involving dozens of officers and investigators, followed a string of accusations "denouncing abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures."

The authorities also seized computer files at the home of Belgium's top cardinal for the last 20 years, Leonard's predecessor Godfried Danneels.

According to retired priest Dirk Deville, hundreds of cases of sexual abuse had been signalled to Danneels going back to the 1990s, but Danneels himself recently denied being involved in any cover-up.

The Belgian church's longest-serving bishop, 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.

A Belgian committee probing priest paedophilia allegations has been flooded with hundreds of new complaints since the resignation.

Paedophilia scandals and allegations of cover-ups have rocked the Church in Europe and the Americas in recent months.

Pope Benedict XVI himself has faced allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the Vatican's chief morals enforcer, he helped to protect predator priests.

© 2010 AFP

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