Child-abusing ex-bishop's tell-all shocks Belgium

AP News
Posted: Apr 15, 2011 2:39 PM
Child-abusing ex-bishop's tell-all shocks Belgium

A former bishop's televised admission that he sexually abused two of his nephews caused an uproar in Belgium on Friday, with the prime minister, senior clergy and a prosecutor expressing shock at the way the ex-prelate made light of his offenses.

In an interview that aired Thursday Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges, spoke of his sexual abuse as "a little game," that involved fondling, but no "rough sex."

"I was never naked" and the abuse was never about "real sexuality," said Vangheluwe, 74.

He resigned as bishop in 2010 after admitting he had abused one of his nephews for 13 years _ until the boy was 18. In the TV interview aired Thursday, he revealed that he had abused a second nephew "a few times, a couple of times, not for years."

Vangheluwe apologized for the pain he had caused, but denied being a pedophile.

"I never felt the least attraction to a child," he said.

"And I still don't. From me toward him (the nephew) there was a bit of intimacy that occurred each time we saw one another. And of which we later said, 'That's not right.'"

The abuse occurred at sleep-over family gatherings, Vangheluwe said.

The reaction from the Belgian church _ which has been devastated by hundreds of abuse cases and allegations _ was sharp disapproval.

Guy Harpigny, the bishop of Tournai, said that, at a time when the church is reaching out to abuse victims, "along comes a former bishop who says it was only little games. This man is either sick, or it is a normal reaction from a pedophile."

Patrick Hoogmartens, the bishop of Hasselt, said he deplored the way Vangheluwe "made light" of his sexual abuse.

"All (Belgian) bishops are astounded," said Josef De Kesel, the current bishop of Bruges.

But Vangheluwe said he would never voluntarily leave the priesthood.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Belgian bishops expressed "the feelings of astonishment and worry that were generated by the interview."

"For its part, the Holy See is following the situation attentively, well aware of its seriousness, and is gathering all the information necessary for an in-depth assessment," Lombardi said. The Vatican said this week that it had ordered Vangheluwe to no longer work as a priest while officials determine his punishment.

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme appeared to take a cue from that with a veiled plea to the Vatican to defrock him.

"It is horrible what he says. The church must take its responsibility. This cannot go on," said Leterme.

Bruges Prosecutor Jean-Marie Berkvens said Friday the abuse of the second nephew lasted for two years. The victim was younger than 8 at the time.

Both cases occurred too long ago to be prosecuted.

Berkvens said he was "shocked" by how Vangheluwe "treats everything as if it were a trifle. I can assure you it was not."

Vangheluwe complained in the hour-long interview that the church was targeted by abuse probes, while other sectors, like sports organizations, were let off too easily.

"Why is it different for priests than for other situations? Why should the church pay compensation and there is no compensation in other professions?" he asked. "The church should not be pushed in a special corner."

The interview took place in a wooded Catholic retreat in Ferte-Imbault in central France, where Vangheluwe has been sent by the Vatican.

Throughout the interview, he sat relaxed, sometimes smiling and at times shrugging his shoulders as if to signal that the events he spoke of were not very serious.


Associated Press Writer Alessandra Rizzo in Rome contributed to this report.