Belgian police Tuesday questioned Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the former head of the country’s Catholic Church, as part of a probe into allegations of child abuse by priests.
Danneels, the man who led Belgium’s Catholic Church for three decades until December, was taken in for questioning shortly after 9:30 am (0730 GMT), Belga news agency reported.
The cardinal’s spokesman, Hans Geybels, confirmed earlier that he would be questioned.
Danneels has been accused by a retired priest of shielding predator priests when he headed the country’s Catholic Church from 1979 to 2009 but he has denied any cover-up.
Late last month, police raided the Church’s headquarters and seized computer files from Danneels’ home.
The legality of the move has been questioned by lawyers for Danneels as well as the archbishop of Mechelen, whose palace was also raided. They argue among other things that it compromises the inviolability of the Vatican.
Belgium’s Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck, while upholding the independence of the judge handling the case, has criticised the manner in which the raid was conducted at the seat of the country’s Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church in Belgium has endured some of the worst of the worldwide paedophilia scandal to beset the Vatican, having been rocked in April when its longest-serving bishop, 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, resigned from his Bruges post after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.
According to retired priest Dirk Deville, hundreds of cases of sexual abuse had been signalled to Danneels going back to the 1990s.
A victim of a paedophile priest in French-speaking Wallonia has also accused Danneels’ successor as the leader of Belgium’s Catholics, Andre-Joseph Leonard, of covering up an abuser and keeping him for five years at his post.
In a bid to restore confidence within an increasingly sceptical flock, Belgium’s bishops came together in May to publicly beg forgiveness from victims both for the actions of paedophile priests and for the Church’s “silence.”
Paedophile priest scandals and allegations of high-level cover-ups have surged again since last year across Europe, the United States and Brazil.