Belgium hears ex-bishop Vangheluwe play down abuse

Former Belgian bishop Roger Vangheluwe (archive image from 2007) The Vatican has still to decide the ex-bishop's fate

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Former Belgian bishop Roger Vangheluwe has gone live on TV to talk about how he sexually abused two boys but does not see himself as a paedophile.

Emerging from hiding, he revealed he had molested two of his nephews, and not one, as he confessed last year before resigning as bishop of Bruges.

He does not face prosecution because the abuse occurred decades ago.

"It had nothing to do with sexuality," he said, in comments that caused indignation among politicians.

Justice Minister Stefaan De Clercq said in a statement the Church authorities "had to take measures to stop the irresponsible behaviour of the former bishop".

"It is a slap in the face of his victims and all victims," the justice minister added.

The 74-year-old is believed to be living outside Belgium since being ordered to leave the country by the Vatican, which has yet to decide on his future.

A decision will be made "naturally taking into account the various aspects of this issue, starting with the suffering of the victims and the requirements of the justice system", Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP news agency earlier this week.

'Not good'

Wearing a blue smock over a black shirt, with no clerical collar showing, Fr Vangheluwe spoke to the Dutch-language VT4 channel's interviewer in a room at an undisclosed location.

Start Quote

I don't have the impression at all that I am a paedophile”

End Quote Roger Vangheluwe Former bishop of Bruges

"Of course I know that this was not good," he said. "I have confessed many times."

He had considered suicide but believed it to be a "cowardly act".

He described the 13 years of sexual abuse to which he had subjected one nephew from the age of five as no more than "a little piece of intimacy".

"How did it begin?" he said.

"As with all families. When they came to visit, the nephews slept with me. It began as a game with the boys. It was never a question of rape."

"I don't have the impression at all that I am a paedophile," he said. "It was really just a small relationship. I did not have the feeling that my nephew was against it, quite the contrary. It was not brutal sex."

According to the former Roman Catholic bishop, the boy he abused over 13 years eventually told his family and he stopped.

He alleged he had later paid his former victim several large sums of money.

Walter Van Steenbrugge, a lawyer for the nephew, denied that such payments had been made.

He was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying: "Knowing what happened, I want to ask him what he then understands to be brutal sex."

Speaking in Vatican City, Fr Lombardi said Roger Vangheluwe had been ordered to leave Belgium and undergo spiritual and psychological treatment.

The disgraced cleric has not been defrocked but the Vatican spokesman added that it was "obvious" he would not be allowed to practise as a priest while he was undergoing treatment.

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