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Belgian judges ruled invalid on Thursday truckloads of evidence seized by police in summer raids probing child sex 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 raids 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 a minor over a period of years in the 1980s.
© 2010 AFP
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