Belgian Church releases abuse report

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images Psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens chaired a report by an independent panel on church abuses.
Psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens

“We can say that not a single congregation escaped sexual abuse of minors by one or more of its members,” said the Commission on Church-Related Sexual Abuse Complaints, led by Dr. Peter Ariaenssens, who is both a church investigator and psychiatrist.

The independent commission in Belgium whose investigation into Church child sex abuse cases was interrupted by police raids in which its computers and files were confiscated was able to release a report on Friday.  Even the brief statistics in news reports are heartbreaking to read: it enumerates hundreds of instances of sex abuse in Belgium’s Catholic church.

Adriaenssens said the commission found no evidence that the Church had systematically sought to cover up abuse, although it had found instances when nothing was done.  The report makes firm recommendations that the church establish victims’ groups and a treatment center for abusive priests to prevent future incidents.

“Victims deserve a church brave enough to confront its vulnerability and find a fair response.”

The reported incidents of abuse took place over the last 70 years.  The peak of abuse appeared to have been in the 1960s, the report concluded, with a sharp drop in the 1980s. None of the incidents took place recently.

The report detailed a total of 475 male perpetrators (about 75% of them were priests, and 25% teachers and other workers in Church schools and youth centers). There were 506 victims of whom two-thirds were male.   The abuse was most likely to occur to children around the age of 12.  Saddest of all, there were 13 cases of suicide linked to abuse. Two-thirds of the victims expressed no desire to file any criminal charge.

The investigation was not entirely finished; after the police seized files, some victims chose not to give further testimony as their confidentiality could not be assured.

Nearly half of all the reports of abuse were received in a single week last April, after Belgian Bishop Vangheluwe revealed that he had abused his nephew for many years and resigned. “The Vangheluwe case was a landmark because it was the first time people saw you could have a normal, famous person who was actually a hidden sociopath,” Dr. Adriaenssens said.

The report was commissioned by the leaders of the Catholic Church in Belgium.  They made no comment on the report on Friday, but are scheduled to present plans for dealing with abuse in the Church on Monday.

The full report was released in Flemish, with French translation soon to follow.

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