Archbishop convicted for not dealing with paedophile priest

Belgian Archbishop André Léonard has to pay a 10,000-euro compensation to a man who was sexually abused by a catholic priest for many consecutive years. The Liège Court of Appeal has decided that Monsignor Léonard didn't sufficiently act on a complaint made by the victim many years ago.
Nicolas Maeterlinck
Belgian Archbishop André Léonard

The events took place between 1987 and 1991. From when he was 14 until he was 18, victim Joël Devillet was molested by a priest from Luxemburg province. At the time, Mr Devillet was a choir member and an altar boy. He kept silent for many years, because it was his dream to one day become a priest himself. In 1991, he decided to finally point out the abuse to Monsignor Léonard, who was still a regular bishop in Namur at the time.

"I put my faith in Bishop Léonard. He said that we would settle things on the down low, and that he would pay for my psychologist. I believed him, because a bishop never lies", explains Mr Devillet.

But the bishop never took action. Only in 2001, when Mr Devillet went to court, the paedophile priest was transferred. Ultimately, the Criminal Court decided that the crime was too old to prosecute, but the offender was obliged to pay a hefty compensation. The victim then decided to take Mgr Léonard to court as well, for covering up the abuse.

At first, the court decided against Mr Devillet. So he went to the Liège Court of Appeal, which has now determined that, indeed, the Archbishop was partly responsible for the harm caused by the sexual abuse. The judge declared that Mgr Léonard didn’t adequately follow through on the victim's complaint, and that he’d underestimated the gravity of the events.

Mr Devillet is pleased with the verdict. "I've waited five years for this sentence. I went to the Court of Appeal, and in the end I won."

In related news, a Bruges priest recently caused a stir because he’d sent a letter of complaint to his bishop. The letter denounced the church’s reluctance to definitively deal with paedophile priests. Rik Devillé of the ‘Human Rights in Church’ group tells VRT Radio that the situation in other provinces is “ten times worse”, and that “there are still offenders who are able to get in touch with children” while the church does nothing.

Right now, ‘Human Rights in Church’ is looking at more than 900 files on alleged abuse.