Sunday, 09 April 2017
At the initiative of victims, the Mensrechten in de Kerk work group and Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, there was an installation ceremony for the piece “Esse est Percipi” (To exist is to be recognised). It is dedicated to the memory of all victims of sexual abuse by Church members. The ceremony was held in the Koekelberg basilica at 11am on Saturday.
More than 150 people attended the ceremony, including many Church representatives. It was paid for by victims and victim’s families. The statue, which is a little infant’s dress, was unveiled during the ceremony. It is similar to other statues in Antwerp and Bruges, and symbolises destroyed childhood and fragility.
Linda Opdebeeck, the President of the Human Rights within the Church workgroup (Mensrechten in de Kerk), and someone from the association gave speeches in the name of the victims. They said although the beginning of their involvement with the Church was traumatising, they were able to appreciate the Church’s progressive acceptance of the severity of the incidents. This acceptance had started to forge a path to reconciliation.
Tournai Archbishop Guy Harpigny thanked the victims for not giving up until they were heard, as it allowed him to stop denying what was going on and stop living as if he knew nothing about it. “Hearing how they have suffered shows the pain of being destroyed by someone who has betrayed their commitment to God and the Church. Speaking about their suffering highlights the harshness of the cult of silence imposed on them”. Cardinal Jozef De Kesel talked about the work that has been done to handle the issue, notably with the Parliamentary Commission. The Church is and feels morally responsible for the abuse. “We have been able to recognise the evil done to them. We have been able to ask forgiveness. We have been able to compensate them, which is a necessary sign of our recognition. Otherwise it would have been nothing but empty words”. He concluded his speech by saying he hoped “today would be the moment to recognise and remember victims of sexual abuse within the Church, and our desire to break the cult of silence and destroy it forever, to make sure this doesn’t happen again”.
That afternoon, victims and Church representatives met in small groups to discuss how to take the work forward into the future.
Although Bel RTL reported that some victims were offended they weren’t invited, Tommy Scholtès, the Episcopal Conference spokesman, explained that invitations were sent out through the Human Rights work group, and the Church was stuck because contact details are kept confidential. It was announced in the press, so any victim that wanted to attend the event could register for free.