Belgian Bishop Steps Down, Admits Sexual Abuse

Pope Immediately Accepts Resignation

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BRUGES, Belgium, APRIL 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI accepted today the resignation of Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium, who admitted to sexually abusing a minor. 

The resignation was reported by the Vatican press office today. At a press conference in Brussels, Bishop Vangheluwe admitted, “When I was still just a priest, and for a certain period at the beginning of my episcopate, I sexually abused a minor from my immediate environment.”

“The victim is still marked by what happened,” he added.

The prelate said that “over the course of these decades I have repeatedly recognized my guilt towards him and his family, and I have asked forgiveness; but this did not pacify him, as it did not pacify me.”

He continued: “The media storm of recent weeks has increased the trauma, and the situation is no longer tenable. 

“I profoundly regret what I did and offer my most sincere apologies to the victim, to his family, to all the Catholic community and to society in general.”

Thus, the 73-year-old bishop stated, “I have presented my resignation as bishop of Bruges to Pope Benedict XVI.”

At the same press conference, Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels acknowledged, “We are facing a particularly serious situation.”

“Our thoughts go first and foremost to the victim and his family, some of whom have learned the shocking news only today,” he said. “For the victim this has been a long Calvary, which has clearly not yet ended.”

Conversion

The prelate noted that Bishop Vangheluwe, as a person “has the right to conversion, trusting in the mercy of God.”

However, he added, “as regards his function, it is vital that, out of respect for the victim and his family, and out of respect for the truth, he should resign from office; this is what he has done.”

“The Pope immediately accepted the resignation of the bishop of Bruges,” the archbishop affirmed.

He continued: “The Church thus underlines the importance of not procrastinating in such cases. We hope to contribute to the rehabilitation of the victim.

“The decision of the bishop of Bruges, and the calling of this press conference, express the transparency that the Catholic Church in Belgium rigorously wishes to apply in these matters, turning a new page with respect to the not-so-distant period in which the Church, and others, preferred the solution of silence or concealment.”

Archbishop Leonard acknowledged that “this event will cause great suffering in the whole Catholic community of Belgium, especially because Bishop Vangheluwe was considered a generous and dynamic person, much appreciated in his diocese and in the Belgian Church.”

“We, his confreres, are aware of the crisis of trust this will provoke in many people,” the prelate added. 

Nonetheless, he concluded, “we dare to hope that wisdom will prevail and that the bishops, and especially the priests, of this country will not be unduly discredited as a group, because the vast majority live a lifestyle coherent with their vocation, with a faithfulness for which I here publicly express my thanks.”

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