Belgian archbishop ordered to pay church abuse victim

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 24, 2015 5:52 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium's senior Roman Catholic cleric, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, has been ordered to pay 10,000 euros ($10,900) in damages for failing to act on allegations of sexual abuse in the 1990s.

The civil case was brought by Joel Devillet, who was abused by a priest while he was a choirboy in the south of Belgium in the late 1980s, when he was 14 years old.

Devillet later studied to become a priest himself and informed the Church of his earlier experience of abuse, but it did little to help him and did not alert justice authorities, an appeals court in Liege said on Thursday.

"At no moment at the church court was Joel Devillet recognized as a victim," the court said in its judgment, adding that Leonard, in his capacity as bishop of Namur in the 1990s, bore some blame.

"The way in which Bishop Leonard treated the case of Joel Devillet constituted misconduct," the court said.

Leonard has been criticized before for saying it is vengeful to prosecute retired priests, and that the Church need not compensate victims.

A report in 2010 found child abuse was widespread in the Belgian Church, and had driven at least 13 victims to suicide.

The Church's highest profile case came to light in 2010, when the bishop of Bruges resigned after admitting he had sexually abused a nephew.

Leonard's lawyer, Philippe Malherbe, said the archbishop disagreed with the court judgment but had not yet decided whether he would appeal.

"The court lists various things that certain people should have done, but nothing that Monseigneur Leonard categorically should have done. That nuance is important," he said.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Kevin Liffey)