Church back in dock with new child sex bishop revelations

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The Roman Catholic Church was back in the dock Friday as Belgium reacted with fury to new child sex abuse horrors admitted by an ex-bishop sent into French exile rather than facing justice.

Roger Vangheluwe told Dutch-language Belgian VT4 television on Thursday night that he abused one nephew for 13 years and another for nearly 12 months, but that there was "no penetration" and he didn't think he was a paedophile.

Days after the Vatican took Vangheluwe under its wing and ordered that he undergo "spiritual and psychological treatment," Belgium's shocked justice minister Stefaan De Clerck said Vangheluwe's latest revelations were a "slap in the face" for all victims.

A Belgian lawmaker leading a parliamentary inquiry into a decades-long scandal of sex abuse by priests and lay workers covering more than 500 victims and 13 known suicides slammed "protection" for Vangheluwe by the church hierarchy.

Socialist Karine Lalieux said the Vatican's decision to whisk Vangheluwe off into care in exile amounted to "pseudo-sanctions" designed to protect the church, which has faced mounting calls to compensate victims and cooperate with prosecutors.

Doenja Van Belleghem, spokeswoman for Vangheluwe's replacement as the bishop of Bruges, said the institution was "dumbfounded" at his latest tales of furtive nights and days under the covers, which he admitted he knew was wrong.

"How did it start? As in all families: when they came to visit, my nephews would stay over," Vangheluwe said.

"It began as a kind of game with this boy. It was never a question of rape, or physical violence. He never saw me naked and there was no penetration.

"I don't in the slightest have any sense I am a paedophile. I don't get the impression my nephew was opposed, quite the contrary," he added, before admitting "I knew it wasn't good, I confessed it several times."

Vangheluwe resigned as bishop of Bruges last year after admitting sexually abusing one nephew between 1973 and 1986, plunging the Church into a deep crisis. He went into seclusion, but continued to express his demons.

He said the abuse ended when one of the nephews told his family, but that it was agreed it would remain within the family and Vangheluwe says he paid millions of old Belgian francs to the victim.

He could not say whether his exile amounted to a "sentence" by the Vatican, saying only he had to "talk regularly" with a designated psychiatrist although he reiterated an earlier defence that the abuse "ended 25 years ago" and that he had been able to "work very well" as a priest up until he quit.

Vangheluwe, who insists he never covered up other abusive priests in his role as bishop and maintains priests are not beyond the reach of the law, has apologised to his victims, the rest of his family, the Church and others.

Spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Tuesday the Vatican had not taken a "final decision" on his fate, saying "various aspects" would be taken into account, "starting with the suffering of the victims and the requirements of the justice system."

Any decision to defrock the former bishop rests ultimately with Pope Benedict XVI, and justice minister De Clerck said Vangheluwe's "irresponsible behaviour" by speaking out in the media showed his exile "has not awakened in him a realisation of the dramatic scale" of his actions.

De Clerck said that Vangheluwe's "appearance in the media is particularly misplaced," deeming it a "slap in the face for his victims and for all victims" of child sex abuse.

Parliament's Lalieux has already called for Vangheluwe "one day" to "face justice in his country and answer to his crimes" and said a 70-page report "shows that the Church wanted to cover up his responsibility."

Bishop of Tournai Guy Harpigny said he was "terribly disappointed," that it was "as if everything that happened meant nothing," and added of Vangheluwe: "This is a sick man speaking, either that or it's the standard reaction of a paedophile. I don't understand."

© 2011 AFP

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