Belgian bishop resigns over sexual abuse of boy
Reputation of church leaders 'given higher priority' than victims
BELGIUM'S longest-serving bishop resigned yesterday in another devastating blow to the Catholic Church already reeling from the child abuse scandal.
Bishop Roger Vangheluwe (73) expressed his sorrow for having sexually abused a young boy both as a priest and after becoming a bishop in 1984.
The resignation of Bishop Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges, was the first from Belgium since the child abuse scandal first erupted in the Catholic Church several months ago.
Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Belgium read a statement yesterday in which Bishop Vangheluwe announced his resignation and admitted sexual abuse. Pope Benedict XVI has accepted his resignation.
Bishop Vangheluwe did not attend the news conference. His resignation stands out because while several bishops have resigned amid the abuse scandal -- three from Ireland in the past four months alone -- they did so under the weight of accusations they shielded paedophiles in their roles, not because they themselves abused children.
"When I was still just a priest, and for a certain period at the beginning of my episcopate, I sexually abused a minor from my immediate environment," Bishop Vangheluwe said in his statement, read by Archbishop Leonard.
"The victim is still marked by what happened. Over the course of these decades, I have repeatedly recognised my guilt toward him and his family, and I have asked forgiveness. But this did not pacify him, as it did not pacify me."
Bishop Vangheluwe was due to retire next year. Earlier this month, Norwegian church officials revealed that Bishop Georg Mueller had resigned a year earlier because he had molested a child when he was a priest.
One of the highest-ranking churchmen to resign because he was an abuser was the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer. He was forced to resign as archbishop in 1995 over claims he had molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s.
Archbishop Leonard said the church was stepping up to deal with the scandal.
"We are aware of the crisis of confidence his resignation will set in motion," Archbishop Leonard said. But he stressed the church in Belgium was determined to "turn over a leaf from a not-very-distant past".
Archbishop Leonard became Belgium's archbishop this year. In his Easter homily, he addressed the paedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church, saying in the past "the reputation of church leaders was given a higher priority than that of abused children".
As elsewhere, the Catholic Church in Belgium has a weak record of cracking down on sexual abusers in its ranks. In 2000, it created a panel to look into abuse complaints that quickly clashed with the church leadership. The panel has accused the church of tardiness in compensating victims.
Hundreds of people have come forward in recent months, including in Pope Benedict's native Germany, accusing priests of raping and abusing them while church leaders turned a blind eye.
This week, the Vatican has said it would do everything in its power to bring justice to abusive priests and implement "effective measures" to protect children.
It recently published guidelines instructing bishops to report abuse to police when civil laws require it. The Vatican insists that it has long been church policy, though it was never before explicitly written.