In four years, over one thousand victims reported episodes of sexual abuse by priests and religious. Most of the facts (80%) occurred more than 30 years ago and the Church had to pay over 4 million euro for compensations. It’s the overall figure that emerges from a report on sexual abuse in the Church, covering the period 2012-2015, presented in Brussels by Manu Keirse, professor emeritus at the University of Leuven, President of the inter-diocesan Commission for the Protection of Children and young people. According to the Report, 418 complaints were filed to centres set up by the Church (“points de contact”), while 628 complaints were submitted to the Arbitration Centre created on request of the Parliamentary Commission for the processing of complaints regarding sexual abuse. The total number of cases reported amounts to 1 046.
For years the Belgian Church has been placing major efforts in addressing episodes of abuse and violence against minors perpetrated in parishes and religious congregations, with truth and transparency. After the initial choc – Keirse said during a press conference – bishops and superior religious have promoted a wide range of initiatives to support the victims of sexual abuse in the framework of a pastoral relationship. Ten “contact centres” were purposely set up (one in each diocese and two for religious congregations) for the victims. Moreover, on several occasions, public appeals encouraged the victims of episodes sanctioned by law to denounce such episodes. In addition, at the request of a Parliament Committee (set up by Parliament to deal with the sexual abuse files) an “Arbitration Centre” was set up for those who no longer trust Church institutions.
The Report shows that 80% of episodes of abuse occurred over 30 years ago. 89% of the victims were under 18 at the time they suffered abuse while 23% were under 10. Male victims amount to 71%, while 29% were girls. As many as 95% of the abuses have been committed by men, but 5% of the cases of abuse were committed by women. Financial compensations amount to a total of 3.9 million euro, given to the victims through the “Dignity” Foundation, created by the Belgian bishops to compensate the victims of paedophile priests.
Abus sexuels: L'Eglise belge a indemnisé pour plus de 4 000 000 d'euroshttps://t.co/dbm04AWaGX
— CathoBel (@cathobel) February 22, 2016
“Our goal today is to help all those who have suffered and were hurt”. The victims are thus at the centre of all reconciliation and legal processes, as pointed out by Monsignor Guy Harpigny, bishop of Tournai, who, along with the bishop of Anvers, Monsignor Johan Bonny, presented the Report to journalists in Brussels. Monsignor Harpigny ensured “full cooperation with the police” in line with what was recently reiterated by the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, regarding “the moral and ethical responsibility to report alleged cases of abuse to civil authorities responsible for protecting our society”.
“It was initially bewildering – said the bishop Harpigny – to realize there had been so many cases involving such as high number of priests and religious”.
He added: “Despite the many efforts, I am sure that there are more victims who have not yet had the courage to speak out and report cases of abuse. That’s why I say that we must be very careful to welcome people who are struggling to come out in the open. Filing a complaint is a very difficult process for the victims because they are in the position of having to tell strangers what they have suffered and relive an extremely painful part of their life. Their desire is just to be heard. In Belgium many people have lost faith in the Church. But this is not our primary concern. Now our goal is helping the victims and further a healing process”.
Manu Keirse, President of the inter-diocesan Commission for the Protection of Children and Youths, said: “We are fully aware that the past cannot be changed. But at least we can try to offer today what was missing in the past: humanity and solidarity. It’s a sincere attempt to transform the injustices experienced in the past into future rights”.