Outraged over police raid on church offices? Wait for what is revealed
By Barbara Blaine
Peter Isely and Barbara Blaine, both of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, speak to journalists in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 25. (CNS /Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
The police raid last week on Catholic offices in Belgium wasn't exactly received with open arms by church officials. All nine of the nation's bishops were detained for nine hours. Their cell phones and the phones of other diocesan personnel were held.
It was "not pleasant," one church staffer said. Another called it "not very agreeable." A third accused law enforcement of "paranoia" and a fourth claimed police showed "excessive zeal."
I was not sympathetic to their plight. Six years ago, I watched closely as another law enforcement raid of a diocesan headquarters took place in my home town of Toledo. The deception it uncovered was stunning. And the evidence it obtained was later used in a trial to convict a murderer.
In 2004, Fr. Gerald Robinson stood criminally charged with brutally stabbing and slaying Sr. Margaret Ann Pahl 24 years before. A devout Catholic police detective, who considered the Toledo diocesan chancellor a friend, was in charge of the investigation.
At that point, Robinson had been a priest in the Toledo diocese for 30 years. But when the detective asked the chancellor for Robinson's personnel file, he was given just three pages.
Puzzled, the detective, who is also an attorney, began researching canon law. He learned that each bishop is required to keep a secret archive, and to not ever disclose its existence. Armed with this knowledge, the police secured a search warrant.
On Sept. 15, 2004, according to Toledo Blade reporter David Yonke, "two detectives walked into the Catholic Center, ignoring the receptionist's pleas to sign in" and went straight to the Bishop Leonard Blair's office. They showed Blair the warrant, cited the secret archive, but were told by the bishop "it simply doesn't exist."
But when pressed, the chancellor eventually gave the detectives a file an inch and a half to two inches thick containing 148 documents about Robinson. "Many of those records were dated before the detective's request nine months earlier for all of the [cleric's records]," Yonke wrote. "Clearly, the diocese had not turned over all of its Robinson files."
The results of the case are mixed. On one hand, a jury found Robinson guilty. He's now behind bars where he can't hurt anyone else, adult or child. (He's accused in a civil lawsuit of molesting girl as well.) On the other hand, however, despite claims that Pope Benedict speeded up the defrocking process, Robinson remains a priest today. And Robinson is appealing his conviction. Should he succeed on some technicality, he'll walk out of prison still a priest.
Another diocesan cleric, who prevented police from questioning Robinson as a suspect almost 30 years ago, has since passed away. Shockingly, a downtown street is named in his honor. The signs remain posted even today, rubbing more salt into the already-deep wounds of Sr. Pahl's family and local clergy sex abuse victims.
So I can't summon much compassion for the Belgian church employees who were inconvenienced for a few hours last week. It's theoretically possible, I suppose, that every one of them is completely innocent of committing or concealing child sex crimes (though just this year, hundreds of alleged victims of Belgian predator priests have stepped forward). It could be that Catholic bishops and chancery staff in Brussels handle, and have handled, pedophile priests radically differently than their Toledo counterparts. It's conceivable that Belgian law enforcement officials will uncover nothing questionable in the records they seized at the church headquarters and a bishop's home.
But based on what we've seen in Toledo, I sure wouldn't put any money on it. --------------------- Barbara Blaine, a Toledo native, is the founder of a Chicago-based support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She can be reached at
In Belgium, anti-pedophile priest rips 'silence and omissions' of bishops
by John L Allen Jr
Back in April, retired Belgian priest and anti-pedophilia crusader Fr. Rik Devillè told reporters that he had informed church authorities more than fifteen years ago about sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, but no action was taken. Vangheluwe resigned on April 23, admitting that he had repeatedly abused his teenage nephew in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Devillè, 65, served for thirty years as the pastor of the Church of St. John Bosco in Buizingen, in the southern zone of Brussels. In 1992, Devillè began collecting information on charges of sexual abuse by priests. Today he claims that an association he founded, “Rights and Liberty in the Church,” has more than 300 files on such cases.
In the wake of the recent police raid on church offices and residences in Belgium, the Italian newspaper La Stampa interviewed Devillè, 65, on June 27. Devillè described the raids as a “good thing,” saying “it’s about time that the justice system seeks out the guilty.”
The following is an NCR translation of that interview.
The Belgian church instituted its own commission to investigate charges of abuse, the Adriaenssens Commission. Is that not enough?
The problem was its connection with the Archdiocese, and the absence of either a lay component internally or a connection with the civil authorities. I always hoped that a truly independent commission would be formed, an organism whose objective was to help justice take its course. That must be the way. It’s not up to the church to decide who violated the law and who should be punished.
Do you believe that Belgium is a special case? Or is the plague of sexual abuse by clergy a common evil?
It happens everywhere, believe me. Belgium believed itself to be an exception because no case ever came to light. Yet as early as 1994, I had collected 82 accusations. The victims wanted to be heard by the church, they wanted to break the curse. It’s been useless, at least up to now.
You have said that you spoke with Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the former primate of the Belgian church, but he says he doesn’t remember.
I spoke with him about my files on two occasions, in the first half of the 1990s. I advised him of the problem, and I don’t know what he did afterwards. On one occasion, however, I remember that the cardinal became angry. He said this wasn’t my job and that I should stay out of it.
Do you think he said that to hide something?
The bishops have a long history over their shoulders of silence and omissions. They protect the guilty, and not the victims.
How are the Belgians reacting? They’re a very Catholic people …
They were, once upon a time. Beginning in the 1970s, the Catholic church has become steadily less democratic and the faithful have distanced themselves from it. It looks to the past, to a power that’s rotting. Progress isn’t talked about anymore, of putting an end to celibacy, for example, or ordaining women priests.
Do you believe that would be a solution for repairing the relationship with the people?
Certainly not by itself. The church must not return to the Middle Ages, but entrust itself in a more concrete manner to the letter of the Gospel, taking care of the poor and the weak, and renouncing the ostentation of earthly power. If not, the only possibility is moving slowly towards its end. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ London ~ Sunday 27 June 2010
Pope causes outrage for condemning church abuse raids in Belgium
Victims groups say Vatican criticism of police shameful, as pontiff calls raid deplorable and demands church role in investigations
Tom Kington in Rome ' 'I want to express … my sadness, in which, certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out,' says the pope. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
Groups representing the victims of clerical abuse tonight expressed outrage after the pope criticised raids on the Catholic church by Belgian police.
Last week, police raided the home of a retired bishop, opened the grave of at least one archbishop and detained Belgium's nine current serving bishops as they met, seizing their mobile phones and only releasing them after nine hours.
Pope Benedict described the raids by officers investigating abuse claims as "surprising and deplorable" and demanded that the church be allowed a role in inquiries into child molesters in its ranks.
In a message to the head of the Belgian bishops' conference, Monsignor André-Joseph Léonard, the pontiff condemned the raids and offered his support to the bishops "in this sad moment".
"I want to express, dear brother in the episcopate, as well as to all the bishops of Belgium, my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out," he said.
"I hope that justice will follow its course while guaranteeing the rights of individuals and institutions, respecting the rights of victims, [and] acknowledging those who undertake to collaborate with it."
The Vatican has also protested to Belgium's ambassador to the Holy See. Yesterday, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, said: "There are no precedents for this, not even under communist regimes."
But the raids were welcomed by the American clerical abuse victims group Snap. "Vatican officials who criticise the Belgian police raid of the Brussels church hierarchy should be ashamed of themselves," said Joelle Casteix of Snap. "While Roman church officials talk about stopping abuse, Belgian police officials take action to stop abuse."
As cases of abuse by priests have emerged throughout Europe this year, the Belgian church has apologised for failing to root out abusers in the past and promised a crackdown.
On Friday, the pope appointed Monsignor Jozef De Kesel as the bishop of Bruges to replace Roger Vangheluwe, 73, who resigned in April over abusing a boy. Vangheluwe was the first European bishop to step down after confessing to abuse.
As part of their investigation into recent claims of abuse, police last week drilled into the tombs of two archbishops at the cathedral in Mechelen, north of Brussels, using cameras to look for hidden documents, a church official said. Investigators said only one tomb had been opened.
Léonard condemned the raid as being inspired by "crime novels and the Da Vinci Code".
Police took documents and a computer from the home of his predecessor, Godfried Danneels, and seized documents from an independent panel investigating 500 cases of suspected abuse by priests.
After initially treating the abuse revelations emerging in Europe as a plot to discredit the church, Vatican officials have increasingly admitted the need for it to co-operate more closely with police.
But in his reaction to the Belgian raids, the pope stressed that abuse within the church needed to be handled by both civil and canon law, "respecting their reciprocal specificity and autonomy".
Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference, went further, claiming the police investigation went "beyond the legitimate requirements of justice" and was the sign of a secular government's "desire to attack the church in its entirety" by a secular government. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ June 29, 2010, page A4
Warning About Church’s Abuse Documents Led Belgian Police to Raid Its Offices
By DOREEN CARVAJAL MECHELEN, Belgium Four days after a series of police raids of Catholic institutions in Belgium that drew sharp criticism from the pope, the reason for the unusually aggressive operation has emerged: a formal accusation that the church was hiding information on sexual abuse lodged by the former president of an internal church commission handling such cases.
The declaration to the police set off four raids in which the authorities seized hundreds of case files from the commission’s current leader, detained a group of bishops for more than nine hours and disturbed the tomb of a cardinal where construction work had recently been done. Investigators drilled into the tomb and lowered a camera, but found only the remains.
Investigators are now analyzing more than two truckloads of seized documents, many related to 475 complaints lodged with the sex-abuse commission after the resignation in April of a popular bishop who admitted that, early in his career, he had molested a boy.
The former head of the commission, Godelieve Halsberghe, said in an interview with a Flemish newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad, that she had gone to the authorities after receiving a call from a man who did not identify himself and warned her in French to “watch out” for herself and to secure the documents she held on about 30 cases she had handled during her tenure at the commission, from 2000 to 2008.
Ms. Halsberghe, now a retired magistrate, has long been critical of the church’s efforts in Belgium to confront its past. Alarmed by the phone call, she took the documents in her keeping to the authorities and warned them that the church might be hiding others. On Monday, she declined to accept calls.
The Belgian prosecutor’s office the object of Vatican fury over the raids confirmed that there had been a formal accusation but declined to discuss the source. “We are working on a specific case about a specific declaration,” said a spokesman, said Jean-Marc Meilleur. “We are not starting an inquisition against the church.”
Ms. Halsberghe’s case records, she told the newspaper, included documents from victims and records of conversations with Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who retired in January and whose home was among the targets of the Belgian raids last week.
Over the next few weeks, investigators will be comparing records from the church and the commission to evaluate whether some cases had remained secret, they said.
Church officials said they remained mystified by the police action and continued to denounce the disruption of the tomb and question its purpose. Eric de Beukelaer, a spokesman for the leader of the Belgium church, said: “When we were told, we could hardly believe it. Maybe they have a good reason for doing that, but we are here guessing.”
Ms. Halsberghe’s successor at the church commission, Peter Adriaenssens, resigned Monday along with other members, complaining that the Belgian authorities had let their group collect information as the complaints flooded in after the resignation of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, and pounced as the flow began to dwindle.
“We were bait,” Mr. Adriaenssens told reporters on Monday, before being questioned by investigators.
Prosecutors are considering whether to expand beyond gathering evidence against abusers to encompass those who knew children were in peril but failed to protect them. “You have a part of a case that could be against the ones who committed the crimes and you also could have another part of the case against those who didn’t help someone who was in danger,” Mr. Meilleur said.
On Tuesday, the Vatican will honor the head of the Belgian church, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who was one of the clerics held and questioned last week at the ornate palace of the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. The archbishop will be one of 30 church officials to receive the pallium, a vestment worn by the pope that is conferred as a mark of association with the papacy and its powers.