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This Feb. 15, 2007 file photo shows then Bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe, in Bruges, Belgium. Pope Francis has defrocked a notorious Belgian bishop who admitted 14 years ago that he sexually abused his nephew but faced no Vatican punishment. (AP Photo/Peter Maenhoudt, file)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has dismissed the former bishop of Bruges, Belgium, from the clerical state 14 years after Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation following his admission that he sexually abused his nephew.

Roger Vangheluwe, 87, was informed March 20 by the apostolic nunciature in Brussels that Pope Francis had ordered his laicization effective March 21 after “serious new elements” in his case led the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to review his file, Vatican News reported.

After a new investigation, which included listening to the Belgian cleric’s defense, the dicastery presented the case to Pope Francis March 8 with the recommendation that he be removed from the clerical state.

Pope Francis approved the recommendation during an audience March 11 with Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, dicastery prefect, Vatican News said.

The Belgian Catholic website Kerknet.be reported that the nunciature’s announcement concluded by saying, “The Holy Father once again expresses his closeness with the victims of abuse and remains committed to eradicating this scourge in the Church.”

After a television documentary series, “Godvergeten” (“Godforsaken”), aired in Belgium in 2023, Kerknet.be reported, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp and Auxiliary Bishop Koenraad Vanhoutte of Mechelen-Brussels went to the French abbey where Roger Vangheluwe resides and asked him to renounce the title of bishop emeritus.

“A few days later, Vangheluwe informed Bishop Bonny that he had sent a letter to the pope. What he had written in it he would not say,” Kerknet.be said.

The website also noted that many abuse survivors and Belgian officials wanted Pope Francis to take some action against the former bishop before a possible trip to Belgium in September.

In 2010 Vangheluwe admitted that he had sexually abused one nephew over the course of 13 years, beginning when the child was 5 years old. A year later, in an interview, he admitted to abusing a second nephew and said that lasted less than a year.

He had told the Belgian station VT4 that he did not consider himself a pedophile.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1963, St. John Paul II named him bishop of Bruges in December 1984 and he was ordained to the episcopacy the following February.

The Belgian bishops’ conference said in a statement March 21 that they repeatedly had asked for his laicization “for years.”

“Along with the victims of abuse and many others in our society, the bishops of our country have always considered it shameful that Roger Vangheluwe was able to officially remain a bishop and priest, despite the very restrictive measures put in place since his forced resignation,” the statement said.

The statement also suggested that the “serious new elements” referenced by the nunciature included “the statement of a victim who recently testified formally against Vangheluwe.”

The bishops thanked the victims and survivors for having “the courage and strength to denounce their attacker. Their example has inspired many other victims who, in turn, will no longer let their abuser go unpunished. The bishops hope that this laicization will help the victims recover from the abuse that so deeply affects them and their loved ones for life.”

The statement noted that while “Roger Vangheluwe's laicization means that, in principle, he can now go wherever he wants,” it has been agreed “with the abbey where he currently resides that he can continue to stay there in seclusion. The bishops have insisted that he do so.”

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