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Belgium Catholic Church vows to compensate abuse victims

Published on 30/05/2011

Belgium's Roman Catholic Church vowed Monday to compensate the victims of paedophile priests in the wake of a child abuse scandal that has rocked the Church for the past year.

Accused for months of showing little compassion for the victims, the bishops and heads of religious orders deplored the abuses that were documented last year by a Church-backed commission, which revealed nearly 500 cases that took place over several decades, resulting in 13 suicides.

“Recognising their moral responsibility and the expectations of society, the bishops and religious leaders pledge to ensure recognition of the victims and adopt measures to heal their suffering,” the Church said in a statement.

“They are determined to bring dignity back to the victims and provide financial compensation according to their needs,” it said, denouncing the “trauma and suffering” caused by abusive priests.

The Church is following recommendations from a special parliament committee on priest abuse, which called in March for the creation of an arbitration panel that would decide compensations for victims in prescribed cases.

Some 80 abuse victims are already mounting civil lawsuits against the Belgian Church and the Vatican, accusing religious authorities of negligence by turning a blind eye to the crimes committee by predator priests.

In the United States, lawsuits brought by abuse victims caused some dioceses to declare bankruptcy following million-dollar settlements.

A lawyer for the Belgian victims, Walter Van Steenbrugge, said the case he wants brought before a Belgian civil judge is based on the Vatican and the Belgian Church’s “civil responsibility, having analysed their attitude towards sexual abuse, as much at the time when the abuses were committed as today.”

The scandal erupted in Belgium in April 2010 when the bishop of Bruges admitted abusing his nephew, leading to the creation of the commission that exposed a mountain of abuses committed by other priests since the 1950s.

Roger Vangheluwe, who resigned as bishop of Bruges last year, caused outrage again last month when he revealed that he had abused a second nephew, and insisted that he did not consider himself a paedophile nor a threat to children.

Ordered by the Vatican to go into spiritual retreat in a religious community in France, Vangheluwe, 74, has disappeared from view.

The bishops and leaders of the Church’s religious orders “express their dismay over the serious acts that were committed by members of the clergy and religious communities,” the Church said in its statement.

“These acts led to trauma and suffering for the victims, often over many years. They sincerely deplore this and hail the courage of the victims, who faced painful events,” it said.

“The bishops and religious leaders are unanimously committed to taking measures at their disposal to prevent serious acts, which all of society rightly deplore, from happening again in the future,” the Church said.