Belgian Church head visits Vatican amid abuse scandal

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The head of the Belgian Catholic Church said "painful questions" raised after a senior bishop admitted to sexually abusing a boy would be discussed in a visit to the Vatican that started Monday.

The bishop of the Flemish city of Bruges quit his post last month after admitting to sexually abusing a young boy, in the country's first high-level resignation related to a paedophilia scandal sweeping Europe and the Americas.

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, the head of the Belgian church expected to meet Pope Benedict XVI during his trip to the Vatican, is also under pressure after being accused of not taking action against a paedophile priest.

"We will certainly discuss the painful questions arisen in our country after the resignation of the Bruges bishop," Leonard told Vatican Radio on Monday.

"It will be inevitable to discuss this issue and the measures that we will put in place to handle this situation," said Leonard, who has headed the Belgian Church since January.

A victim of a paedophile priest in French-speaking Wallonia has accused Leonard of, as a bishop, covering up an abuser and keeping him for five years at his post.

Leonard's spokesman Eric De Beukelaer last month said that "We did as much as we could at the time, removing the priest involved from all of the pastoral functions that would have put him in contact with children."

The Roman Catholic Church is reeling from a string of damning revelations concerning child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in America and in Europe, including the pope's native Germany.

The Belgian Church has recently called on all offenders to admit their crimes and for their victims to make complaints, setting up an independent committee.

European bishops are scheduled to visit the Vatican once every five years.

During the visit, the Belgian bishops will individually meet with Benedict and top Vatican prelates before holding a general meeting with the pope on Friday.

© 2010 AFP

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