Vatican sends Belgian bishop in abuse scandal into 'exile'
The ex-bishop at the centre of the Belgian Catholic Church's paedophilia scandal left Belgium under Vatican orders to seek spiritual and psychological treatment, the Holy See's embassy said Saturday.
Roger Vangheluwe resigned as bishop of Bruges last year when he admitted sexually abusing his nephew between 1973 and 1986, plunging the Church into a deep crisis. He went into seclusion following his resignation.
After reviewing his case, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which judges the most serious offences, decided to ask Vangheluwe to leave Belgium, the Vatican's nunciature in Brussels said in a statement.
The decision was made even though the statute of limitations in the case had expired under canonic law, the nunciature said. It did not say what country he was heading to.
Vangheluwe must "undergo a period of spiritual and psychological treatment," the statement said. The former bishop has lived in different locations, "without a permanent address," since his resignation in April last year, it said.
The nunciature did not say if the Vatican had decided to defrock Vangheluwe, a decision that would rest in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI.
Vangheluwe has apologised to his victim, the victim's family, the Church and others. However many have called for him to be dismissed from the Church.
Following his resignation, a Church-backed commission revealed in September nearly 500 cases of abuse by Belgian priests and lay workers since the 1950s, including 13 victims who had committed suicide.
Tommy Scholtes, director of Catholic communications, told RTL-TVI television that the decision means that the former bishop "is condemned to exile. It is a serious sanction."
Vangheluwe will have to see a psychologist and be under the care of a "spiritual priest who will make him understand the seriousness of his acts," Scholtes said.
The decision to send Vangheluwe into exile shocked the head of a parliamentary commission investigating the abuse scandal.
"I would have expected less cowardly behaviour from Mr. Vangheluwe," Socialist lawmaker Karine Lalieux told RTL-TVI.
"I would liked for him to stay (in Belgium) so that maybe one day he could face justice in his country to answer to his crimes," she said, calling the decision to send him away "extraordinary."
© 2011 AFP