BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian authorities on Monday raided the administrative offices of three Catholics bishops, part of an ongoing child abuse investigation that has previously raised the ire of the Vatican and church officials.
Belgian Catholic Church spokesman Geert Lesage said the offices in Hasselt, Mechelen and Antwerp cooperated during the raids and handed over requested files as much as possible. He said it was still unclear exactly what authorities were seeking.
The raid was the first since one in 2010 code-named Operation Chalice, in which authorities seized hundreds of case files from a church and used power tools to open a prelate's crypt in Mechelen's St. Rumbold Cathedral seeking evidence. Pope Benedict XVI called the raids "deplorable" at the time.
That raid was declared excessive by a Belgian court, but the government said the investigation could continue if the inquiry respects legal rules.
Bishops' offices said they fully cooperated with the investigation Monday.
"The whole procedure was correctly dealt with," said Clem Vande Broek, a spokesman for the Hasselt bishop's office.
In Hasselt, the files of four cases were taken, but church officials were allowed to take a copy first, Vande Broek said. He said two of the cases dated from over 40 years back while the suspects involved had already died and were already known to judicial authorities.
In Mechelen, the probe continued into the afternoon and it was unclear how many files would be taken.
A spokesman for the investigators did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.
Over the past two years, more than 500 witnesses have come forward with accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy in Belgium, spanning several decades.
The scandal has had a huge impact on the Belgian church and has highlighted the issue of sex abuse, which has undermined the church's credibility in many Western nations. Revelations of rape or other sexual abuse of minors by priests, and of cover-ups by bishops, piled up for months.
The Belgian church is also leading an investigation into the allegations.