Brussels – A Belgian Catholic Church-backed commission on Friday published a report revealing hundreds of cases of alleged sexual abuse of minors by clergy and church workers, and 13 suicides by abuse victims.
The commission said it had received 475 complaints in the first six months of this year from alleged victims or their families.
Most were related to charges of sexual abuse committed between the 1950s and the late 1980s by Catholic clergy, but also by teachers of religion and adults working with youth movements.
It noted that one fact in particular showed “the extent of the negative effects: the high number of suicides”, the report said.
The commission received 13 reports in which “the person concerned died by suicide and this in relation to sexual abuse by a cleric”, it said, adding that another six victims said they had attempted suicide.
All congregations involved
The 200-page report which contains testimonies from some 124 anonymous “survivors” – as the victims of the alleged abuse are called – reveal that the sexual abuse for most victims began at age 12, although one was two years old, five were aged four, eight aged five and ten aged seven, the report said.
While the description of the alleged sex molester is often imprecise, where verification had been made 102 were found to have been members of some 29 religious orders, the report said.
“We can say that no congregation escapes sexual abuse of minors by one or several of its members,” the report’s authors wrote.
Two-thirds of the alleged victims were male, it also noted.
The commission headed by a psychiatric specialist in paedophilia, Peter Adriaenssens, said it received most of its testimony after the forced resignation in April of the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted having sexually abused his nephew between 1973 and 1986.
A woman in the report testified that she was abused at age 17 by a priest and tried to seek help from a bishop in 1983.
“I told him ‘I have a problem with one of your priests’. He told me: ‘Ignore him and he will leave you alone’,” she said.
The commission concluded that the victims deserve “a courageous Church which is not afraid to confront its vulnerability, to recognise it, to co-operate in finding fair responses.”
The commission members resigned en masse in June after their files were seized in raids by Belgian judicial authorities.
Judges subsequently struck off from admissible evidence the fruits of that search in June at the offices of the church commission.
On Thursday a Belgian appeals court deemed raids on the church headquarters in Brussels and at the home of its former top cardinal disproportionate, and ordered that the material seized be returned with prosecutors unable to use it.
The country’s current archbishop, Andre-Joseph Leonard, said after the decision was made public that “it is in everyone’s interests that the fundamental rules of law are respected.”