Pervasive abuse in Belgian Catholic Church

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. An independent commission set up by the Belgian Catholic Church has issued a report and it's not easy reading. It details widespread sexual abuse of children by Belgian priests. More than 500 men and women gave testimony about the abuse they suffered. Some were younger than seven years old at the time. More than a dozen victims are thought to have committed suicide because of what they went through. From Brussels, The World's Clark Boyd reports that the head of the Belgian Catholic Church has responded to last week's report.

CLARK BOYD: Andre-Mutien Leonard told a news conference today that the Belgian Catholic Church wants to cooperate more closely with the police. That it does want the abusers to be punished. The Archbishop acknowledged of Friday's report, that the record of sexual abuse stretches back decades, and that it happened in every diocese in Belgium. Archbishop Leonard said Church officials want to help the victims.


ANDRE-MUTIEN LEONARD: In the wake of this report, the first thing we will do is look at individual cases. We want to be as receptive as possible to the wishes of the victims. We must listen to their questions to restore their dignity and help heal the suffering they have endured.

BOYD: To do that, the Archbishop proposed the creation of a Center for Recognition, Reconciliation and Healing. But, he gave no details. San Duerinck was eleven when he says he was molested at a Catholic boarding school. That was more than 50 years ago, but he still remembers what happened when he went to people in authority with his story.

SAN DUERINCK: When I was at that boarding school, I told it to one priest in the confessional, and he didn't react. He was like a block of stone. And then I told to the superior of the school, and he said oh, it's the past now, you shouldn't think about it any more. You should get over it and go on with your life.

BOYD: Duerinck now works with an organization that helps victims of abuse come forward. He says that a Chuch-run center of reconciliation isn't enough.

DUERINCK: The Church is a private organization, and they should give all of what they have, the material, archive, documents, they should hand it over to the state authorities.

BOYD: At his news conference today, Archbishop Leonard did not spell out how the Church would work with police. He did warn, though, that those found responsible for abuse would face sanctions, including possible lifelong exclusion from the Church. In April, the Bishop of Bruges resigned after he admitting abusing his nephew years ago. The Church has yet to defrock or sanction him. But most of the people who stepped forward to testify for the report did so after the Bishop resigned. Austin Ivereigh of the British-based group Catholic voices says the Belgian church is now on the right track.

AUSTIN IVEREIGH: Clearly now the Church is saying we want to hear from victims more than we have.

BOYD: That applies to victims not only of the Catholic Church, but of all institutions that care for children. Ellen Stassart is with Child Focus, a Belgian group that works with abuse victims.

ELLEN STASSART: I think what we have seen now is abuse and misuse of authority. I think this was misuse of authority of the church, and of priests and other Catholic persons. I think we can't tolerate this kind of abuse from no institution whatsoever. Not an educational system, not another system and not in the church. I think really in general we cannot tolerate it.

BOYD: For its part, the Vatican has been silent on the abuse revelations in Belgium. For The world, this is Clark Boyd in Brussels.