Belgian police raid church offices over abuse files

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 18, 2012 12:49 PM
Belgian police raid church offices over abuse files

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian police conducted a third day of raids on Catholic church offices on Wednesday as part of an operation targeting priests suspected of child abuse.

Since Monday, police have searched offices in seven of Belgium's eight dioceses, looking for documents on priests associated with child-abuse claims, a spokesman for the Belgian Catholic church said.

The priests' names began to come to light in 2010 when detectives raided the home of a former archbishop and, on the same day, seized the files of a church commission set up to investigate abuse complaints.

That operation was part of an investigation launched after the then-Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, admitted he had sexually abused a boy.

A spokesman for the Catholic church in Belgium said: "In each bishopric they are asking for the file of priests or religious people who have been named in the victim files."

Police gave no warning before they raided the offices, and prevented staff from making phone calls, a spokeswoman for one diocese, Tournai, said.

Hundreds of cases of child abuse by priests have come to light across Europe and the United States as more disclosures encourage long-silent victims to go public.

Almost 500 people have filed abuse claims in Belgium alone over alleged abuse committed by Catholic priests.

In December last year, a parliamentary commission ruled that abuse victims could claim up to 25,000 euros in compensation from the Catholic church through a special abuse panel.

Belgium's federal prosecutor's office did not respond to requests for comment on the raids.

(Reporting by Ben Deighton; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Ben Harding)