Belgian probe of sex-abuse cover-up allegations

The Vatican is stepping up its condemnation of an extraordinary raid by Belgian law enforcement authorities to search for evidence that clergy sexual abuse was covered up. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said that the detention of bishops for questioning smacked of communist governments' practices. The Belgian police were also faulted by church authortieis for searching the graves of two archbishops in the cathedral crypt, apparently on a tip that documents were hidden in the tombs. "It looks like police were searching for the Da Vinci code," Archbishop Andr-Joseph Lonard reportedly said.Thursday's search created these scenes: police with dogs sealed off the archbishop's palace; investigators confiscated the personal computer of Cardinal Godfried Danneels; bishops were detained and questioned; a mountain of documents was seized from a church commission investigating 450 cases of alleged sexual abuse.Authorities said that they also raided St. Rumbold's Cathedral, seat of the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese, acting on an informant's tip that documents were hidden there. (Nothing was found.)According to news reports from Belgium, the search was based on allegations from several witnesses that church officials deliberately withheld information on sexual abuse. The search signals that prosecutors evidently suspect that the church's investigative commission is holding back evidence from them - they seized all of the panel's records. The head of the church commission, child psychiatrist and Professor Peter Adriaenssens, responds that the confiscated records include information meant to be confidential.Was there a long-standing cover-up? EvenArchbishop Lonard said recently that the Belgian church would turn over a leaf from a not-very-distant past when such matters would pass in silence or be concealed.I've followed this news with the current column from Brooklyn's Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in mind. He comments, referring to clergy sexual abuse in the United States, that it's wrong to say that church authorities took part in a cover-up. He writes that "the term `cover-up' is inappropriate to describe the phenomena because in most instances the abuse was unknown and never reported." He adds:

The public perception by members of the Church is that somehow the bishops engaged in a cover-up of crimes in the past or even in the present and were unresponsive to the needs of victims. We must all work to change this perception since it is not accurate. This can be done by each individual priest, deacon, religious and lay person in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens. Knowing the facts will go a long way toward changing the perception inside and outside of the Church.

Grand juries from Philadephia, Suffolk County, N.Y., and elsewhere would certainly disagree with the claim that there was no cover-up. I would agree with one point the bishop makes: that "knowing the facts" is important. What must be done, short of desecrating graves, to confirm the facts so that bishops and lay people will share the same perception of what occurred?

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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