Sympathizing with the victims

Interview with Eric de Beukelaer, the bishops' spokesperson

Belgian bishops are “grateful” for the Pope’s “expressions of closeness”, conveyed after the police search of the archbishopric in Brussels. Eric de Beukelaer, spokesperson of the Belgian bishops transmitted the message and said that the Pope’s letter of Sunday June 27 to Msgr. André Joseph Léonard, archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles and president of the Bishops’ Conference, puts things “in the right perspective”. He broached the subject with us in the following interview. How did the bishops receive the Pope’s message? “With gratitude. We believe that the message puts things in the just perspective. The Belgian Church has experienced an unusual situation, to put the raid on the archbishopric in mild terms. It had a strong impact, also since it was done during the meeting of the Belgian bishops. It had never happened to me, not since I was nominated spokesman, to receive – even international -phone-calls of people asking what was happening in Belgium. I always answered that even if I didn’t agree with everything, justice must take its course. I believe that the fact that the Holy Father reaffirms in his message that even though he does not agree with the modality, justice must be enabled to do its work is a positive contribution. The message also testifies to the fact that the Holy Father is thinking of us, that he does not abandon us. He shows us his closeness, like a father does with his family”. How did the country react to his words? “As relates to media coverage there have been two distinct positions: some supported the intervention of the judiciary from the start claiming that justice must take its course and that the Church is not above the law, which is what we have always claimed. While others were attentive to the Pope’s message and realized that the Pope is addressing the bishops. Thus, it must not be understood as the message of the Pope in his capacities of head of State. Rather, it is the message of the Pope who speaks to his brothers, the Belgian bishops, as the successor of Peter. In the message the Pope also makes many points. He obviously speaks of surprising and deplorable methods, also because all of the Commission’s files were rummaged. The Commission had been working efficiently and people had turned to it in utmost trust. At the same time, as our bishops have underlined, it is reiterated that if this should contribute to the progress of the investigation, then there is full cooperation. This line is reaffirmed in the message. Now it’s important to recover serenity”. How can trust between the Church and civil justice be recovered? “It’s not a question of re-establishing serenity between the Church and the judiciary. Professor Peter Adriaenssens works for an internal Church Commission, which deals with delicate files. This activity is characterised by a deep trust on the part of the judicial authorities. Now the impression is that this trust no longer exists. The suspicion is that the files are being hidden from civil justice”. The Commission resignedEnsuing the resignations previously announced but officially presented on July 1st, by the president of the independent Commission for the treatment of sexual abuses set up by the local Church, Peter Adrianssens, Belgian Bishops confide in “the constructive cooperation between the competent authorities” and its members , after the police raid in the archbishopric of Malines-Bruxelles past June 24. “The bishops – states in a note Msgr. Guy Harpigny, bishop of Tournai, delegate for Relations with the Commission – do not question the right of the judicial authorities to conduct a search, if the right is carried out within the appropriate legal framework on the basis of accurate and legitimate evidence, employing proportionate instruments”. Indeed, they conveyed their “regret for the methods employed in the raid on the Commission offices”. The “requisition of the files on the victims” prevents the Commission “from continuing its delicate – albeit sound – mission”. Hence the prelate calls for “constructive cooperation between the competent authorities, which will enable to establish whether the mission can be continued in one way or another, without risking to yet again breach the trust of the victims”. On behalf of the Belgian bishops, Msgr. Harpigny, conveyed his “respect and understanding” of those “who found the courage to confide their suffering to the Commission”, along with “heartfelt gratitude” to the president and its members “for their generous commitment”. Indeed, the bishop points out, “given the numerous abuse reports received over a short period of time, they worked efficiently and completely independently from the bishops”. Never – he said – did this Commission claim to act as a parallel Court. In fact, “the victims were always suggested to turn to the judiciary”. The Commission’s activity “was inscribed within the respect of constitutional law, which grants social bodies the freedom of internal organisation. The appointment of a magistrate of reference on the part of the Minister of Justice also strengthened the assurance that everyone’s rights were being respected”, he concluded.

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