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Europe

Head of Belgian Catholics speaks out after damning sex abuse report

The head of the Catholic Church in Belgium speaks out for the first time since the release of a report last week detailing hundreds of child sex abuse cases involving priests.

A priest wears a crucifix around his neck

Some of the sex abuse cases date back to the 1950s

The head of Belgium's Roman Catholic Church, Andre Leonard, says hundreds of child sex abuse cases involving priests revealed last week in a special report "should never, never have happened."

In his first comments since the release of the document last Friday, Archbishop Leonard told a press conference that the church wished to "draw the lessons from past errors."

The report, compiled by a church-tasked special committee headed by child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens, included almost 500 cases of child sex abuse by priests. Some cases involved children as young as two.

The scandal has already claimed one high-profile figure in the Belgian church, former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who stepped down in April as he admitted to having abused his nephew for 25 years.

Roger Vangheluwe

Vangheluwe has not yet been sanctioned by the Vatican

"Personal attention is the first thing we have to regain, following the report," Leonard told a live TV press conference.

"We want to commit to maximum availability to victims," he said following admissions by a bishop that he paid a victim and amid allegations of a church cover-up.

"We have to listen to their questions," he said of parishioners, "to re-establish their dignity and help to heal the suffering they have endured.

"We want to learn the lessons of the errors of the past. The reflections and conclusions contained in the report (on sexual abuse in the church) will be taken on board," he said.

Bishop of Tournai Guy Harpigny said the Catholic Church in Belgium would seek to set up a Center for Recognition, Healing and Reconciliation by the year's end to help deal with all cases of clerical child abuse.

The reports coming from Belgium follow numerous similar cases that have surfaced in several other European countries, including Pope Benedict XVI's native Germany, and the United States in recent years.

Author: Darren Mara (dpa/AFP)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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