Belgian judges ruled invalid on Thursday truckloads of evidence seized by police in summer raids probing paedophile scandals within the country's Roman Catholic Church.
An appeals court deemed the raids, on the church headquarters in Brussels and at the home of its former top cardinal, disproportionate, and ordered that the material -- on hundreds of individual investigations conducted by an internal church commission -- be returned with prosecutors unable to use it.
The current archbishop, Andre-Joseph Leonard, said after the decision was made public that "it is in everyone's interests that the fundamental rules of law are respected."
He said that he is "in no way opposed to a correctly-run judicial investigation" and that he was "satisfied that clarity has finally been shone on this affair."
On Friday, the church commission is due to report on its findings into allegations going back decades, and is expected to shed some light on the depth of the scandal with some 100 victims having agreed to have their stories told.
The swoops had drawn the anger of the pope, with church officials indicating that police had even opened tombs in the Mechelen cathedral and priests reporting that they were denied sustenance over long hours.
They took place as Belgium's bishops were meeting with a Vatican emissary, and also saw computers and bishops' mobile telephones confiscated in an effort to uncover electronic evidence to support allegations of cover-ups.
Judges had already struck off from admissible evidence the fruits of a search the same day in June at the offices of the church commission, whose panel subsequently announced their resignation en masse.
After paedophile scandals struck the Catholic Church in Ireland, the United States and Austria, Belgium was stunned in April when the bishop of Bruges was forced to resign. He admitted abusing his nephew over a period of years in the 1980s.
This week, the former church leader, Godfried Danneels, admitted he should have encouraged the Bruges bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, to resign, instead of acting to mediate between the priest, who admits to having paid his victim regular sums of money. Danneels has been accused by the Belgian media of mounting a cover-up.
© 2010 AFP
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