VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- As the Church in Belgium grapples with the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy, a Vatican spokesman today commented on the case of the retired bishop of Bruges, who admitted to abusing a minor and stepped down in April.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, reported today that retired Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges is no longer in his diocese.
As to any further sanctions that could be forthcoming, including loss of the clerical state, Father Lombardi said the decision lies with the Pope.
“I think that an eventual ‘reduction to the lay state’ of the former bishop will have a more symbolic than practical meaning, because the exercise of his ministry is already excluded at the present time,” Father Lombardi said.
But he acknowledged the concern of Belgian society and the Church there “because of the gravity of deeds committed in the past by the former bishop.” And he affirmed that this concern is “shared by the Pope and his collaborators.”
The spokesman recalled how the bishop’s request to resign from episcopal office and leave the ministry was granted immediately by the Holy Father in April.
Father Lombardi said the Pope will “certainly need time to be informed and to reflect” before any further decisions on the case are made.
The Vatican spokesman’s comments came today as events this week have again brought the situation of the Church in Belgium to the forefront.
On Sept. 10, a report from the Church’s Commission on Church-related Sexual Abuse Complaints was released. That commission, headed by child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens, investigated 475 complaints, mostly from the 60s and 70s.
On Monday, Archbishop Andre-Joseph (Mutien) Leonard responded to the report, announcing plans for a center of “recognition, reconciliation and healing.”
The new center should begin to operate this year.
The Commission on Church-related Sexual Abuse Complaints, however, had to shut down after a raid by authorities in June resulted in the confiscation of all their files.
That raid — which included a nine-hour detainment of the nation’s bishops and the opening of two cardinals’ graves — was declared illegal last week by a Belgian appeals court.