Belgian bishop becomes first to resign for child sex abuse

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The bishop of the Flemish city of Bruges has resigned after admitting sexually abusing a young boy several years ago, the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium announced on Friday.

Roger Vangheluwe was the first bishop directly implicated in sex abuse to resign since a fresh wave of scandals involving Roman Catholic priests.

"Before I was a bishop and for a certain time afterwards I sexually abused a young boy close to me," said Vangheluwe, 73, in a letter read out to reporters by a church official.

"The victim is still scarred" mentally, the letter added.

While scant details were given on the abuse, the bishop assumed his role in 1985 and a church official said the time limit for criminal action against him had expired.

"This will be very saddening to the Belgian Catholic community. We are aware of the crisis of confidence that this will engender for a number of people," said Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Belgian church, his voice full of emotion.

The Belgian church now hopes to turn the page on an awful chapter in its history when "we preferred to remain silent" the Belgian primate added.

Another Catholic official insisted that there had been no prior indication of the disgraced bishop's activities.

The church has recently called on all offenders to admit their crimes and for their victims to make complaints.

"In recent years I have many times recognised the wrong I did to him and to his family and I have sought their forgiveness," the paedohile bishop said in his letter.

But that was not enough, he added.

"I profoundly regret what I have done and offer my most sincere apologies to the victim, his family, the whole Catholic community and society in general," Vangheluwe continued.

"I presented my resignation as bishop of Bruges to Pope Benedict XVI. That was accepted on Friday," the letter concluded.

The Vatican confirmed in a statement that it had accepted the resignation.

Leonard said it was a great shame for the Belgian Catholic community, all the more so as Vangheluwe "had been seen as generous and dynamic."

His decision, and the reason for the press conference, was "the wish for transparency" on the matter, the Belgian primate added.

The bishop of Bruges is just the latest Catholic clergyman to be immersed in scandal worldwide.

The German diocese of Augsburg said Thursday that one of the country's most divisive bishops, Walter Mixa, had offered to resign after admitting to hitting children.

On the same day an Irish bishop apologised to the victims of clerical child abuse, after his resignation was formally accepted by the pope, admitting he should have challenged a culture of secrecy.

In Brussels on Wednesday, the Belgian church apologised as another priest lost his appeal against paedophile charges ranging over seven years.

© 2010 AFP

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