"We never wanted to hide the truth”

The Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard has given evidence to the Parliamentary Commission on Sexual Abuse within the Church. Like the former Belgian Primate Cardinal Godfried Danneels yesterday, Archbishop Léonard refused to accept personal responsibility for abuse perpetrated by paedophile priests.

However, he did announce a number of measures to tackle the issue of child sex abuse within the Belgian Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Léonard told the Commission that "I’m here in three capacities; as the former Bishop of Namur, as the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and as the Chairman of the Conference of Bishops”.

He stressed that he has only has a say in what happens within the Mechelen-Brussels diocese and not in dioceses elsewhere in Belgium.

Cardinal Danneels had said the same during his appearance before the Commission on Tuesday.

Both the current and the former Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels are keen to stress that they have no legal powers over other bishops or priests in other diocese.

"Offenders should ask for forgiveness”

On 23 April this year, the Bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe resigned after it was revealed that he had sexually abused his nephew.

This formed the catalyst for Archbishop Leonard to call on all victims of sexual abuse by clergymen to contact the judicial authorities or the Church Commission on sexual abuse.

"The Commission allowed those victims that didn’t want to go to the judicial authorities the chance to tell their story.”

“I was prepared to follow the Commission’s recommendations, but I deeply regret the damage that was caused during the searches of Church properties in the Mechelen-Brussels Diocese and the confiscation of all the Commissions files on 24 June."

"On 19 May I, as Chairman of the Council of Bishops, together with the other bishops signed a letter where we asked the victims for forgiveness both for the abuse and the poor way in which the Church has reacted to it", Archbishop Léonard said.

He added that the letter was intended to give moral support to the victims.

However, none of those that signed the letter had been guilty of any abuse.

Therefore the Archbishop stresses that it is up to the abusers to ask their victims for forgiveness.

Openness and transparency

Since becoming Archbishop, Léonard has not received any reports of sexual abuse within his diocese.

Nevertheless, he did receive a list of 20 suspected abusers from the Church Commission on Sexual Abuse.

However, Archbishop Léonard says that he was only given names and no information as to the nature or severity of the alleged abuse.

As Bishop of Namur, Léonard had knowledge of 8 cases of sexual abuse within his diocese.

He claims that he never tried to cover anything up with relation to these cases and had looked out for both the victims and the abusers.

Archbishop Léonard refused to be drawn when asked if victims will be given compensation.

All he would say is that it is up to the judicial authorities to decide if an institution (in this case the church) can be held responsible for actions that those in charge of it had no control over.

In outlining the Church’s future strategy, Archbishop Leonard said that a code of conduct will be drawn up for dealing with the victims of abuse.

Furthermore, Priests will receive greater guidance to help them do their job correctly.