Police paedophilia raids went too far: Belgian primate

25th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The head of the Catholic church in Belgium complained on Friday that police raids on Church property the previous day during investigations into paedophile priests went too far.

"The justice system does its work and it has the right to carry out searches. Nonetheless I find it slightly surprising that it went as far as rummaging around the tombs of bishops and that all the bishops were held until evening," Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard told reporters.

The "sequestration" of the bishops showed "perhaps an excessive zeal," the primate added.

Police on Thursday raided buildings of the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocesse, including the episcopal palace at Mechelen, north of the Belgian capital, as bishops were meeting with a Vatican envoy.

A spokesman for Brussels prosecutors said the action, involving dozens of officers and investigators, followed a string of accusations "denouncing abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures."

The search focused on letters exchanged between alleged victims of paedophile priests and Church authorities.

The police also confiscated the bishops' phones for several hours and prevented them from leaving during the search.

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

The Roman Catholic Church in Belgium has endured some of the worst of the worldwide paedophilia scandal besetting 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, but Danneels himself recently denied being involved in any cover-up.

Thursday's search also included the crypt in Mechelen cathedral, with investigations making holes in the tombs of two former Belgian primates and sending down cameras in search of hidden documents, without success, according to a Church spokesman.

The Vatican on Friday said it was "indignant" at the violation of the graves.

Archbishop Leonard was speaking to reporters as he introduced Jozef De Kesel, named by the Vatican to replace the disgraced Vangheluwe.

De Kesel was until now the bishop of the Bulna diocese and auxiliary at the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese.

© 2010 AFP

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