A 400-page report retracing the years from 1995 to date with all the darkest events of the Belgian Church and the initiatives implemented, also in cooperation with the Government, to avoid a repeat of painful events like sexual abuse in the future. The Report was released by the press office of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, and will be submitted to the Vatican ahead of the meeting called by Pope Francis on “the protection of minors in the Church”, which will bring together the presidents of all Bishops’ Conferences of the world (21-24 February). Representing Belgium will be Cardinal Joseph De Kesel who expressed the hope, in a statement accompanying the Report, that the Vatican meeting may lead to a “consistent policy throughout the Church”.
“In our country – the statement reads – many sexual abuse victims have come forward in the Catholic Church over the past two decades, and important measures have been taken with a view to developing a consistent policy”. The Report provides a detailed record of the past 20 years, retracing the resignation of the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted abusing a child (2010), the searches of the private residence of Cardinal Danneels in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels the same year, the hearings before a special Commission created by the government of all bishops and cardinals of Belgium (2010-2011), and the Belgian Church’s response with the implementation of a series of preventive measures: two guides (“A souffrance cachée” and “Du tabou à la prévention”); cooperation with the Special Commission established at the Chamber; the creation of ten contact points; the Dignity Foundation established to compensate the victims; and the creation of an inter-diocesan Commission for the protection of children and young people. Thanks to these initiatives, many victims, particularly in the last few years, have come forward and reported the facts. This is what Cardinal De Kesel stressed in the statement: “Hundreds of victims of sexual abuse have finally found the courage to speak out. Since then, and thanks to the help of many people, we have worked on the development of a consistent policy. One that is based, first of all, on the acknowledgement of the harm done to the victims, their helplessness towards the abuser, the silence to which they were confined, and the damage that all this has caused to these people. In dialogue with those who have been abused and their families, with the help of experts, we are committed to implementing measures aimed, where possible, at restoring justice. At the same time, we also try to implement all necessary measures to put an end to sexual abuse in pastoral relationships. We hope that next week’s reflection in Rome may lead to a consistent policy throughout the whole Catholic Church”.