Police question Belgian cardinal in child abuse probe

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The former head of Belgium's Catholic Church, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, was questioned for several hours by police on Tuesday, his lawyer said, as part of a probe into allegations of child abuse by priests.

The 77-year-old cardinal entered a Brussels police station in the morning and was still being questioned in the late afternoon, lawyer Fernard Keuleneer told AFP.

Danneels has been accused by a retired priest of shielding predator priests when he headed the country's Catholic Church from 1979 to 2009 but he has denied any cover-up.

Late last month, police raided the Church's headquarters, seized computer files from Danneels's home and even searched a cathedral crypt in an operation that angered the Vatican.

During police questioning, Danneels was confronted with the former head of a Belgian church-backed commission probing hundreds of reported cases of child abuse by priests.

"I cannot and do not want to say anything on the contents of this confrontation. Justice must now do its work," Peter Adriaenssens, a psychologist, told reporters after leaving the police building.

"Regarding Cardinal Danneels' state of mind, he is clearly in a state of shock," he said.

"It is very difficult for him to know that a good number of people thought that he knew and did nothing. He is surprised that such serious facts are being linked to him," Adriaenssens said.

The legality of last month's raid has been questioned by lawyers for Danneels as well as the archbishop of Brussels-Mechelen, whose palace was also raided. They argue that it compromises the inviolability of the Vatican.

Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck, while upholding the independence of the judge handling the case, has criticised the manner in which the raid was conducted at the seat of the country's Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church in Belgium has endured some of the worst of the worldwide paedophilia scandal to beset the Vatican.

In April 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.

A victim of a paedophile priest in French-speaking Wallonia has also accused Danneels's successor as the leader of Belgium's Catholics, Andre-Joseph Leonard, of covering up an abuser and keeping him for five years at his post.

In a bid to restore confidence within an increasingly sceptical flock, Belgium's bishops came together in May to publicly beg forgiveness from victims both for the actions of paedophile priests and for the Church's "silence."

Paedophile priest scandals and allegations of high-level cover-ups have surged again since last year across Europe, the United States and Brazil.

© 2010 AFP

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