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Belgian bishop quits after admitting abusing a child

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-23

Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges, Belgium, resigned from his post Friday following his own admission to having sexually abused a boy. Vangheluwe is the first bishop to resign due to sexual abuses he himself committed.

AFP - A Belgian Catholic bishop quit his post on Friday after admitting sexually abusing a child, the first such high-level resignation as more paedophilia revelations from the church come to light.
Roger Vangheluwe, who took up his post as bishop of the Flemish city of Bruges 25 years ago, admitted sexually abusing a young boy either side of his appointment, the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium announced on Friday.
"Before I was a bishop and for a certain time afterwards I sexually abused a young boy close to me," said Vangheluwe, 73, in a letter read out to reporters by a church official.
"The victim is still scarred" mentally, the letter added.
While scant details were given about the case, a church official said the time limit for criminal action against the bishop had expired.
"This will be very saddening to the Belgian Catholic community. We are aware of the crisis of confidence that this will engender for a number of people," said Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Belgian church, his voice full of emotion.
The disgraced bishop offered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI.
The Vatican confirmed on Friday that the resignation had been accepted under a canon law provision for "illness" or unspecified "other serious reasons," and that Vangheluwe was "reduced to lay status" -- meaning he was stripped of his priesthood.
Vangheluwe thus becomes the first bishop to resign due to sexual abuses he himself committed, another low for the church.
Earlier this month Georg Mueller, a German-born former Catholic bishop in Norway, admitted sexually abusing a minor 20 years ago.
However, he had already stepped down last year, officially because he was unsuited for the work.
Others have resigned for covering up abuse cases among their clergy.
The scandal has reached the pope himself, with the Vatican's attorney on Friday dismissing "completely without merit" a lawsuit against Benedict over sex abuse committed by a US priest.
An alleged victim of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest accused of molesting up to 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin, sued the Vatican and the pope on Thursday in an attempt to open secret files on internal investigations into sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Belgian church has recently called on all offenders to admit their crimes and for their victims to make complaints, setting up an independent committee which the victim's family in the Vangheluwe case contacted.
"In recent years I have many times recognised the wrong I did to him and to his family and I have sought their forgiveness," the paedophile bishop said in his letter.
"I profoundly regret what I have done and offer my most sincere apologies to the victim, his family, the whole Catholic community and society in general," Vangheluwe continued.
The Belgian church now hopes to turn the page on an awful chapter in its history when "we preferred to remain silent," the national archbishop said.
Leonard said it was a great shame for the Belgian Catholic community, all the more so as Vangheluwe "had been seen as generous and dynamic."
His decision, and the reason for the press conference, was "the wish for transparency" on the matter, the Belgian primate added.
The bishop of Bruges is just the latest Catholic clergyman to be immersed in scandal worldwide.
The German diocese of Augsburg said Thursday that one of the country's most divisive bishops, Walter Mixa, had offered to resign after admitting to hitting children.
On the same day an Irish bishop apologised to the victims of clerical child abuse, after his resignation was formally accepted by the pope, admitting he should have challenged a culture of secrecy.
In Brussels on Wednesday, the Belgian church apologised as another priest lost his appeal against paedophile charges ranging over seven years.

Date created : 2010-04-23


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