Courts must decide abuse damages: Belgian church

22nd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The head of Belgium's Catholic Church said Wednesday it was up to civil justice to decide whether the Church should compensate victims of paedophile priests, drawing a rebuke during a parliament inquiry.

Grilled by a panel on the child sex abuse scandal, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard called on civil authorities to ensure that any damages ordered against the Church are "realistic and fair."

They should decide whether an institution must pay damages when its leaders "are not personally implicated in the crimes," he said.

Centrist lawmaker Christian Brotcorne criticised what he termed a "transfer of responsibility" suggested by the archbishop.

"The Church would improve by recognising this moral responsibility" and compensating victims, Brotcorne said.

Victims have complained that the Church, which apologised for the abuses and admitted "inadequate" handling of the cases, has not proposed compensation.

It has so far mainly offered to help pay for therapy for the victims, and has said that accused priests should compensate their victims if courts order them to do so.

The parliamentary panel was created after a Church-backed commission revealed in September nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests and lay workers since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.

In some cases, the accused are dead or the statute of limitations has expired.

© 2010 AFP

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