Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Belgian Catholic head 'shocked' by ex-bishop's confession

The head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, Andre-Joseph Leonard, described as "shocking" Sunday an ex-bishop's televised confession that he had sexually abused two of his nephews.

"It is inappropriate and shocking," Leonard told Belgium television RTBF of Roger Vangheluwe's "detached and vacant tone" during the interview, in which he had described "a kind of game" with one of the youngsters.

Leonard said Vangheluwe "should not have spoken".

Vangheluwe, 74, resigned as Bishop of Bruges last year after admitting to having had sex with his underage nephew, but could not be prosecuted as the statute of limitations, the legal period within which a crime can be punished, had expired.

Last week, he again caused outraged when he gave a television interview in which he also admitted to molesting a second nephew but insisted he did not consider himself a paedophile nor a threat to children.

After the first scandal, the Vatican ordered him to seek "spiritual and psychological treatment" at a church community at La Ferte-Imbault in France, and to stay out of the public eye.

Following the interview, which outraged many in Belgium and drew a sharp denunciation from the Council of Bishops, there have been calls for him to be prosecuted.

He then disappeared from his French religious community.

Asked about calls for tough penalties against Vangheluwe, Leonard said "he has already been punished" in 2010, but did not exclude the possibility of his being excommunicated.

This was "a possible choice, but not the only one," Leonard said, adding that Vangheluwe would then become a "free agent over whom we can longer exercise any control".

The case has plunged the Belgian Catholic Church into new turmoil, with several bishops asking the Vatican to act quickly to punish Vangheluwe.

In September 2010, the church was rocked by nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.