The head of the Belgian Catholic church, recently hit by a major child abuse scandal, on Wednesday called for mercy for elderly priests facing such allegations.
Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, a conservative close to Pope Benedict XVI who has headed the Belgian church since January, said retired priests should be spared what could be tantamount to "a sort of vengeance."
Priests who abused children in their care, he told RTBF television, "must obviously be conscious of what happened in their lives, but if they're no longer working, if they have no responsibilities, I'm not sure that exercising a sort of vengeance that will have no concrete result is humane."
Asked whether it was a good thing to punish abusers, he said "If they're still active, certainly."
"But do they (the victims) really want an 85-year-old priest, all of a sudden, pilloried in public?"
The church has been reeling from a pedophile scandal after a church commission last month revealed nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.
The archbishop caused an uproar earlier this month when he said AIDS was "a sort of intrinsic justice."
Responding to the furore he said: "All I'm saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions." He went on to explain that heavy smokers could expect possible lung cancer and that drinking a bottle of whisky a day could harm the liver.
© 2010 AFP
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