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Crisis of confidence

April 24, 2010

In the latest in a series of sex scandals dogging the Catholic Church worldwide, Belgium's bishop of Bruges has resigned after admitting he sexually abused a boy early in his career.

Priests during a mass at the Vatican
The Catholic Church is under pressure over child sex abuse allegations emerging across the worldImage: AP

Roger Vangheluwe said in a statement that the abuse happened while he was still a priest over twenty years ago but continued after he became a bishop.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation.

The 73-year-old is the first bishop to resign in Belgium since the wave of scandals involving priests first hit the headlines in November 2009.

With congregations leaving the church in their droves and a decreasing number of Belgians wanting to join the clergy, the Pope is facing growing pressure over his handling of alleged crimes involving pedophile priests.

Heads roll as Irish scandal widens

Friday's announcement followed the resignation of another bishop in Ireland, 73-year-old James Moriarty, a day earlier. Moriarty was named in a damning report that found Catholic authorities in the Dublin archdiocese concealed abuse of children by priests for decades.

Moriarty was the fourth bishop to be allowed to resign over the scandals in Ireland. There are also mounting calls for the country's top prelate, Cardinal Sean Brady, to leave because of his handling of the case.

Crucified puppets hang on a cross in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
Crucified puppets hang on a cross during a demonstration against church abuse in BerlinImage: AP

New broom sweeps clean

Vatican expert Marco Politi of the left-wing newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano told journalists that the disciplinary measures show "Benedict XVI's absolute wish to carry out a 'clean sweep', describing the drive as "an essential moral and spiritual battle."

The head of the Belgian Catholic Church, Andre-Joseph Leonard, in comments relayed by the Vatican press office, noted that the pope had "immediately accepted" Vangheluwe's resignation.

"In this way the Church is underscoring that in these affairs there is no beating around the bush," said Andre-Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

However, the Vatican dismissed a lawsuit accusing it and Pope Benedict XVI of covering up sexual abuse by a priest at a Catholic school in the United States.

"While legitimate lawsuits have been filed by abuse victims, this is not one of them," Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena said Friday. "Instead, the lawsuit represents an attempt to use tragic events as a platform for a broader attack."

The jury's out on German bishop

Meanwhile, Germany is grappling with a scandal involving one of the country's most divisive bishops, Walter Mixa of Augsburg. He has admitted to hitting children.

Archbishop Walter Mixa
The archbishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, at first denied allegations of physical abuseImage: picture alliance / dpa

The head of the German Church, Robert Zollitsch had asked Mixa to "take a break" -- an unprecedented move, according to German media.

In a letter to the German-born Pope Benedict, Bishop Mixa, who is also military chaplain to the German Bundeswehr, said: "I am and have been fully aware of my own weaknesses. I ask forgiveness from everyone I may have acted wrongly towards and from everyone to whom I may have caused harm."

Archbishop Zollitsch met with the Pope on March 12 to discuss sexual abuse against children at church institutions after German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said a "wall of silence" from the Vatican was hampering probes of sexual abuse of children.

Damage control

On Friday, Mixa's PR advisor Dirk Hermann Voss was sacked. Voss, a trained lawyer, had described the public debate about abuse and also a finance scandal involving Bishop Mixa as a "media campaign against the church."

Meanwhile, the German church reform group "Wir sind Kirche" called for a swift decision about Bishop Mixa's offer to resign.


Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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