Belgium’s leading churchman, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, has made an impassioned call on behalf of the victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Cardinal De Kesel was commenting at the start of a four-day conference on the subject in Rome. Some 200 people, mainly Catholic bishops, are taking part in the conference called by the Pope himself, as the scandal of children being abused by priests shows no signs of going away, despite widespread publicity given to the issue.
As the VRT reports, many victims are also present in Rome, although their expectation of a substantial outcome from the conference is not high.
Pope Francis’ call, it is said, was sparked by the report of a grand jury in the US state of Pennsylvania, which spoke of widespread sexual abuse over years by hundreds of clergy. The conference is the most important official reaction by the Church to the years-long scandal.
Francis took over as Pope when Benedict retired in 2013, and immediately made it clear he would put an end to the vow of silence surrounding the issue of abuse by clergy, and bring in a policy of zero tolerance. However in practice, little has changed.
“People expect from us not only judgements, but also concrete measures,” he said in his opening address.
On the conference website, Cardinal De Kesel spoke of the Belgian experience, which reached a low point when it was revealed that the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had sexually abused a member of his own family for a period of years. Vangheluwe was defrocked, and was replaced by bishop De Kesel.
“The entire Belgian experience and growth towards a coherent approach began by listening to the victims,” he writes, referring to the enquiry chaired by child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens. “I have met many of the victims in my area. Often the abuse was decades old, and this was the first time they had dared to speak of it. Each time I saw how important it was to listen, to take them seriously and to believe them, that their suffering finally should be recognised.”