Belgium church abuse detailed by Adriaenssens report

A crucifix in a Roman Catholic church (generic image) Most Belgians are Catholics

Harrowing details of some 300 cases of alleged sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Belgium have been released by a Church investigator.

Peter Adriaenssens said cases of abuse, mostly involving minors, had been found in nearly every diocese, and 13 alleged victims had committed suicide.

Two-thirds of victims were boys but 100 girls also suffered, he said.

Belgian media have accused the Church of seeking to hide abuse despite prosecutions of abusers.

While the commission he headed had found no indication that the Church had systematically sought to cover up cases, Mr Adriaenssens said its findings were a "body blow" to the Church in Belgium.

The child psychiatrist, who has worked with trauma victims for 23 years, said nothing had prepared him for the stories of abuse, which multiplied as former abusers gave testimony.

"We saw how priests, called up by the commission and asked to help seek the truth, were willing to set up the list of 10, 15, 20 victims they abused during boarding school while the commission knew only of one," he said.

Many alleged victims came forward to testify to the commission after the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned this year, admitting to having sexually abused a boy before and after becoming a bishop.

Mr Adriaenssens announced his commission's findings after an appeals court ruled on Thursday that a raid by police 10 weeks ago to seize the commission's files was illegal, and the files could not be used by prosecutors.

The commission shut down after the raid. The Church is due to announce on Monday how its investigations may be continued.

'Abused aged two'

The commission was never able to finish its enquiries but even so its findings make grim reading, the BBC's Jonty Bloom reports from Brussels.

It reveals that abuse was at its worst in the 1960s when it was so extensive that it was going on in almost every diocese and at every Church-run boarding school.

Assaults on boys usually ended by their 15th year but abuse of girls could continue into adulthood, the report found.

People, Mr Adriaenssens said, should realise that the sexual abuse was "very bad", which was why victims were still suffering decades later.

One alleged victim told the commission of being abused at the age of two.

A female victim testified that she had been abused at the age of 17 by a priest and had tried to seek help from a bishop in 1983.

"I told him 'I have a problem with one of your priests.' He told me: 'Ignore him and he will leave you alone'," she said.

In addition to those who killed themselves, six alleged victims attempted suicide.

No charges

The commission found that the level of abuse had declined in the 1980s.

Our correspondent say this is perhaps because by then there were fewer priests and they were less involved in the education system.

Half of those accused are now dead, the commission said.

The commission also stressed that sexual abuse happened within all religions and organisations.

It recommended punishing abusers who did not come forward and setting up a solidarity fund for victims, to which abusers should contribute.

Victims, the commission concluded, deserved "a courageous Church which is not afraid to confront its vulnerability, to recognise it, to co-operate in finding fair responses".

Thursday's court verdict is being seen as a serious blow to prosecutors, who have yet to bring charges in the current abuse investigation.

A number of Belgian priests have been successfully prosecuted for the sexual abuse of minors in the past decade.

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