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Austen IvereighApril 23, 2010

On this side of the Atlantic we don't go for headlines with commas in them -- an American newsroom custom which we've resisted. The obvious headline was: "Belgian bishop resigns over abuse".

But you would have thought, wouldn't you, that meant a bishop resigning for failing to handle properly the case of an abusive priest?

But in this case, that of 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges for more than 25 years, it is the bishop himself who abused. He has confessed it, and resigned, leaving everyone around him reeling.

In a statement read out today at a press conference in Brussels by Archbishop Andre-Joseph Léonard, Bishop Vangheluwe said that the abuse had occurred “when I was still a simple priest and for a while when I began as a bishop", adding: “This has marked the victim forever".

The bishop said he had on several occasions asked the victim and his family to forgive him but the wound had not healed, “neither in me nor the victim.”

The media storm in recent weeks had deepened the trauma, he said. "I profoundly regret what I have done and I present my sincerest apology to the victim, his family, the Catholic community and society in general."

According to Reuters, "the bishop stepped down after a person close to the victim complained to the Church." There are about 20 cases currently being looked into by a commission set up by the Church in 2000.

Archbishop Léonard did not try to put distance. He described Bishop Vangheluwe as a "great brother and dynamic bishop" who was highly rated within the Belgian Church.

“We are aware of the crisis of confidence his resignation will set in motion,” he said, going on to stress that the Catholic Church in Belgium was determined to “turn over a leaf from a not very distant past when such matters would pass in silence or be covered up.”

The diocese of Bruges seems equally shocked. Says one report: "His entourage is surprised, shocked and devastated because they did not have the slightest indication that the bishop was bowed down with a serious problem. The diocese stays behind, as if beheaded. The staff members of the bishop have taken note of the decision and they respect it. They feel for those who have suffered."

Austen Ivereigh


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13 years 5 months ago
@David S: My thoughts exactly. Not to go out on a limb to protect the abusers, but if those who report these issues conveniently ignore the details of the abuse, the public will assume the worst.

When I hear ''abuse,'' I envision blackened eyes, battered and bruised bodies, and the most sordid penetrations of the body; whereas, it is possible that an inadvertent touching that makes the victim feel uncomfortable could be construed by the victim and his family as abuse.

This is an important distinction as a matter of public perception and appropriate punishment, if not as a legal distinction.
John Raymer
13 years 5 months ago
Never have I been so revolted by comments to a blog column as to the first two above. To the first commentor: it is as if the bishop threw the host and then stomped on it and ground it into the floor. It is all about premeditation. If it were a matter of accidental brushing against someone or an overly lengthy hug then the bishop would not have resigned. Who among the living has not accidently and embarassingly brushed someone or hugged someone a little too long?

To the second commentor, you obviously did not read my response to your question yesterday (Comment 5 to UK Catholics do Pennance for Abuse Errors). When a priest or bishop does anything with sordid intent, it is not only physical abuse but spiritual abuse. Do you know anyone who has been sexually molested? It has scaring emotional consequences that the victim never really gets over. Maybe they learn to manage it after 20 years of therapy.

I congratulate the bishop for resigning. I hope that other bishops who have been abusers do the same. This is the first and necessary step of the Church's penance and repentance.
Kang Dole
13 years 5 months ago
I look forward to a headline reading "Bishop arrested," followed by one reading "Bishop Convicted," and rounded out by one reading "Bishop Sentenced."
Vince Killoran
13 years 5 months ago
I note that he only resigned when after a person close to the victim complained to the Church. Have their been any resignations where the abuser resigned on their own?  That would be a significant action.
Molly Roach
13 years 5 months ago
I will continue to pray that bishops, archbishops and cardinals who have protected abusers or who have themselves abused, will resign.  And maybe bishops, et al want to consider NOT having entourages.   That's no place for a bishop.
Rudy Rau
13 years 5 months ago
''Never have I been so revolted by comments to a blog column as to the first two above.'' You're a bit quick to judge. This particular bishop resigned and gave some general reasons. There are cases where a priest, bishop, or even a cardinal has been accused of 'abuse', with no detail, and their reputations are forever tarnished. And people call for their resignations and arrest.
Such was the case with Cardinal Bernardin who was absolutely and totally cleared of any wrong doing, after the media had pretty much ruined him.
Too many abuse allegations are true and at the same time, too many are false. The problem with the false allegations is that a good number of people hear them and believe without any evidence or detail to back them up.
The same people fail to see the abuse problem as societal and wrongly believe that the Catholic Church is the only place abuse occurs.
Vince Killoran
13 years 5 months ago
According to Jeff someone named Cardinal Law was "absolutely and totally cleared of any wrong doing."  
That's so interesting because there is another cardinal by that name who shuffled predator priests from parish to parish in Boston which allowed them to escape legal responsibility for their actions.  The Boston Archdiocese lost millions in lawsuits and Law did finally apologize: “To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and my mistakes, I once again apologize and from them I beg forgiveness."  Today he's enjoying a coveted assignment in Rome.
What is this other "Cardinal Law" doing?  
John Raymer
13 years 5 months ago
"Your a bit quick to judge." I don't think so. My judgement is not on the bishop but on those among the faithful who are continually trying find mitigating circumstances for sexual abuse of minors by priests. My judgement is on all of the hypocrites who think that there is a "middle ground," who try to blame it on the media, who try to say, as the second commentor did, that only "black eyes and battered bodies" are really abuse, or as the first commentor implied, that the abuse was accidental, "like dropping the host."

No one has said "the Catholic Church is the only place abuse occurs." That is totally irrelevant and merely another sorry excuse. The Catholic Church is not like the Boy Scouts or other civil organizations. It is not even like the Protestant churches because their understanding of the ministry is not the same as our understanding of the priesthood.

I do not judge the bishop who resigned. As St. Paul said "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." But to those who deny the abuse, who try to manage it or put it in perspective, I say "Woe to you ... hypocrites ... you are like whitewashed tombs that appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men's bones." "You blind guides that strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel." [see Matt 23]
Dan Hannula
13 years 5 months ago
My fellow Christians; can we agree on what this unraveling sad story is not.  it is not about journalists doing their jobs.  It is not about lawyers who represent injured people.  it is not about those who may delight in seeing an institution they dislike shamed.  It is not about the relative degrees of harm done, the mitigating factors, and extenuating circumstances of each crime.  And, it certainly is not about the fact that other people have done bad things too.  It is about those in positions of power and authority in our Christian community committing shameful crimes on the weaker members of our community and ignoring and compounding those crimes for years.  It cannot be justified. I.e., it cannot be defined as anything but criminal behavior by placing it in the context of these other irrelevant side issues.  The more we debate in this casuistic manner, the more we aid and abet in the ongoing compounding these crimes.  
13 years 5 months ago
The Church instructs us. Why Penance and Reparation?
If we ask, why penance and reparation, the first answer is: Because God wants it.

But if we press the question: Why does God want it? Then we must say, because in His mysterious wisdom, His justice requires it. We may legitimately say, without really understanding it, that He has no choice. Having given us a free will, if we abuse liberty, we must use our freedom to repay to God the love we have stolen from Him (which is penance) and repair the damage we have done (which is reparation).

Notice, all along I have been using the first person plural, "WE", because penance and reparation are owed to God not only because I have individually sinned, but because we human beings have sinned and are sinning, in our day, on a scale never before conceived in the annals of history.

We know better than Cain after he killed his brother, Abel. We are our brother's keepers. We are mysteriously co-responsible for what other people do wrong. There is a profound sense in which all of us are somehow to do penance and make reparation, not only for our sinful misdeeds, but for the sins of our country and, indeed, for the sins of the whole human race.

We return to our question: Why penance and reparation? Because, in Christ's words, "Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish".

Is it any wonder that on Pentecost Sunday, after Peter preached his sermon, and rebuked the people for their sins, and they asked him, "what must we do," his first word to the multitude was the imperative verb, "Repent!"

Is it any wonder that Our Lady of Fatima's message to a sinful world in our day, may be summarized in the same imperative, "Do penance."

Indeed, the calamities that we have so far seen in this present century: two world wars with more casualties than in all the previous wars of history, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust that hangs over us like a tornado cloud. All of this is God's warning to do penance and reparation. Why? Because God is not mocked.

You do not offend God with impunity. You do not sin without retribution. You do not ignore the will of the Almighty and expect the Almighty to ignore what you do.

What bears emphasis, however, is that this retribution is either to be paid willingly, with our penance and reparation, or will be paid unwillingly within the divine punishment.

The divine logic is simple, awfully simple, and all we have to do is learn what God is telling us. Either we do penance and reparation because we want to, or we shall suffer (against our will) the consequences of our sins in this life, and in the life to come.

But remember, this penance and reparation is to be done not only for what we have personally done wrong. It is for all the pride and lust, for all the cruelty and greed, for all the envy and laziness and gluttony of a sin-laden human family.

God is merciful and in fact as our Holy Father has told us, Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of divine mercy. But God's mercy is conditional. It is conditional on our practice of penance and reparation. A very holy Jesuit understood all of these things. I pass them on for those who have ears...

13 years 5 months ago
Maria; That's nice .. now if only  about 10 cardinals and more than that of bishops  resign and the Vatican downsizes both in people and power and be known as Bishop of Rome. first among equals, , more local control in dioceses, national conferences with more autonomy maybe we can get some reform. Theologians call the Orthodox/Eastern Church  'the other lung'. They are breathing; Rome is choking.. can't we hear the wheezing?
Craig McKee
13 years 5 months ago
For those seeking details of the actual ongoing abuse of the bishop's own nephew:
Dan Hannula
13 years 5 months ago
"Indeed, the calamities that we have so far seen in this present century: two world wars with more casualties than in all the previous wars of history, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust that hangs over us like a tornado cloud. All of this is God's warning to do penance and reparation. Why? Because God is not mocked."
God is bigger than that. 
Craig McKee
13 years 5 months ago
Memo to #14, Re: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/291049
There are no PRURIENT details there. Or here:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/24/ap/world/main6428023.shtml Or here: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2010/03_04/2010_04_23_USAToday_BelgianBishop.htm
And there won't be now that he has resigned.
The GAME of Ecclesial Cat and Mouse continues.
13 years 5 months ago
Ed: The Pope never ceases to be the Bishop of Rome. While you wait for the world's justice, that is, the resignation of Cardinals and Bishops, which may or may not happen, Christ calls us to participate in the redemption of ALl sin in the world through our penance and reparation. Sometimes harder than calling for heads...but this is what Christ asks of us...

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