Belgian child sex abuse police probe death threats

Police officer outside the Archdiocese of Mechelen, Belgium on 24 June An inquiry into church sex abuse in Belgium has been running for years

Police investigating claims of child abuse by Belgian clergy have told the BBC they are probing death threats against witnesses and magistrates.

Last month police raided a meeting of Belgium's Catholic bishops as part of their investigation, seizing computers and documents.

They even searched the tomb of at least one cardinal, prompting an angry response from the Vatican.

The country is one of several where the Church has been shaken by abuse claims.

The investigation into child abuse allegations in Belgium's Catholic Church has already prompted extraordinary scenes, says the BBC's Dominic Hughes in Brussels.

But now the investigation has taken an unexpected turn.

Officials say that police are also looking into threats to the lives of some witnesses and magistrates connected to the case.

Jean Marc Meillure, a spokesman for the public prosecutors office, confirmed that an investigation was under way.

"There are some threats against certain people around the case, and the prosecutors office is investigating that," he told the BBC.

He said the threats had been made against people who gave the authorities information or made a complaint, or against some magistrates.

Clergy held

The raid last month on the offices of a Church commission investigating the abuse claims led to some of the country's leading clergy being detained for nine hours.

Police took away their mobile telephones to prevent them communicating with their staff or with the Vatican.

They were also reported to have drilled into the tomb of at a former Belgian cardinal at the cathedral in Mechelen during what seems to have been a frenetic search for possible incriminating documents.

Officers also raided the nearby home of the recently retired archbishop of Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, seizing paperwork and his computer.

The allegations of child abuse by priests in Belgium are just the latest in a string of similar cases that have hit the Catholic Church in Europe and North America.

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