BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium’s Catholic Church announced Thursday that priests and clergy who abused children will be required to pay damages, even when victims make their claims after the country’s statute of limitations has expired.
The church — in an overall response on how to deal with the abuse scandals that have enveloped it — urged victims to initially take their cases to civil authorities.
But it also said it was willing to impose penalties ranging from apologies to financial compensation, both for recent cases and for those so old they can no longer be brought to court. Over the past two years, more than 500 witnesses have come forward with accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy in Belgium, spanning several decades.
“If the culprit is still alive, he will certainly have to pay,” Bishop Guy Harpigny said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The culprits “may say civil authorities have told them the statute of limitations has expired, but we will say ‘you have to pay,’” Harpigny said. “They have committed evil. They are responsible and we will try to make them pay.”
He added that if individual priests were unable to pay, the church itself would compensate. The Belgian church, however, has not offered any figures regarding potential compensation.
The Vatican is the sole decider of whether to defrock priests.
In Belgian cases, however, Harpigny said in all instances of reports of serious pedophile cases being sent to Rome, the Vatican left the decision of leaving the priesthood to the pedophile priests themselves. So the options of the Belgian church have been limited.
If the guilty “no longer want to be priests, then we will say yes. (But) the priest has to ask’,” he said of the Vatican’s response.
For years, victims organizations have complained that church hierarchy had ignored their pleas and protected abusive priests by moving them from parish to parish instead of punishing them.
Prof. Manu Keirse, who helped the church write “Toward an overall approach of sexual abuse in the Church” in close cooperation with the bishops, said it was “not a good attitude to let everything depend on the priest.”
The Vatican was far too aloof and “infinitely slow,” he told the AP, moments after presenting the Belgian policy text with Harpigny.
“Do I really trust the policies of Rome?” Keirse asked. “No, in fact, I don’t. I have more trust in the intentions of the Belgian church.”
The Vatican has long been accused by abuse victims and bishops themselves of dragging its feet when it comes to dealing with pedophile priests: American bishops in the 1980s begged the Vatican to let them laicize pedophiles without cumbersome and time-consuming church trials, but Rome refused.
Irish bishops in the 1990s proposed reporting molester priests to police but the Vatican came back with a warning that doing so posed serious canonical problems.
Belgium’s abuse scandal broke two years ago when former bishop Roger Vangheluwe admitted to the sexual abuse of two nephews, including 13 years of abuse of one which started at age 5.
Vangheluwe said last year he had fully realized what he did was wrong, and often went to confession about it. The 75-year-old Vangheluwe resigned in 2010, just as the sex abuse scandal was spreading across Europe.
Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11