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Pope criticises police methods in raid on Belgian Church

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday criticised the “surprising and regrettable methods” of police who raided Belgian Catholic Church property last week as part of a paedophilia probe.

The pontiff’s criticism of the police search came in a message of support to Brussels-Malines Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, published by the Vatican on Sunday.

“I want to express, dear brother in the Episcopate, as well as to all the Bishops of Belgium, my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and regrettable methods, searches were carried out including in the Malines cathedral and in the premises where the Belgian episcopate was meeting in plenary session”.

The raids on Thursday came amid fresh claims of child abuse by members of the clergy.

The Vatican has already expressed anger over the police searches, in which phones, computers, the archdiocese’s accounting system and other items were confiscated.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Saturday said the detention of a number of bishops during the raid was “serious and unbelievable”, comparing it to the practices of communist regimes.

“During this meeting, amongst other things, aspects linked to the abuse of minors by members of the clergy were to have been discussed,” the pope’s message said.

“I have myself repeated numerous times that these serious facts must be dealt with by civil law and by canon law, in reciprocal respect of the specificity and autonomy of each.

“In this sense, I hope that justice will take its course and guarantee the right of persons and institutions, in the respect for victims, in the recognition without prejudice of those who commit themselves to collaborating with it and in the refusal of everything that could obscure the noble duty assigned to it.”

Fernand Keuleneer, lawyer for the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese, suggested the Catholic archdiocese could sue the Belgian state over the raids.

Father Eric De Beukelaer, spokesman for the archdiocese, said something that the Belgian church particularly regretted was the searching of the premises of a committee probing priest paedophilia allegations.

The Brussels prosecutor has said the raid followed a string of accusations “denouncing abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures.”

The authorities also seized computer files at the home of Belgium’s top cardinal for the last 20 years, Leonard’s predecessor Godfried Danneels.