Pope Benedict XVI lashed out Sunday at Belgian authorities investigating allegations of clerical sexual abuse, accusing police of using “surprising and deplorable methods” when they raided church offices, detained a group of bishops for several hours and drilled into the tombs of two former cardinals in a quest for evidence.
The pope’s statement also reaffirmed the Vatican’s insistence on having a role in investigating abuses within the church, saying “such grave facts should be dealt with by civil and canonical authorities each respecting its own competence.”
The raids in Belgium occurred last week and came in response to what prosecutors in Brussels described as a string of accusations of pedophilia within the Roman Catholic hierarchy in that country. The targets of the investigation included a former archbishop, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, whose home and former office were searched, and his personal computer confiscated.
Prosecutors did not say whether Danneels was suspected of abuse. They also confiscated the files of an arm’s-length committee established by the Belgian church to hear allegations of abuse against priests.
The Vatican condemned what it said was a violation of the privacy of victims who had come forward to give evidence to the committee.
Police also searched the current archbishop’s residence in Brussels, where the country’s bishops had gathered for a regular meeting. The bishops’ cellphones were taken away during the raid, prompting Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of State and No. 2 official, to label their nine-hour detention “unbelievable,” saying such tactics exceeded those used by “communist regimes.”
Church officials expressed particular indignation at what they called the violation of the tombs of two deceased archbishops. Prosecutors said they opened the graves to look for any incriminating documents. Msgr. Andre-Joseph Leonard, the current archbishop, likened the raid to fictional scenes in the “Da Vinci Code” novel.
The Belgian church has been caught in the deluge of sexual abuse scandals sweeping the Catholic Church in Europe. In April, Roger Vangheluwe, Belgium’s longest-serving bishop, resigned after admitting he had sexually abused a boy for several years.
De Cristofaro is a special correspondent.