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Will Belgian Abuse Victims Sue Vatican?

Lawyers state intentions, despite the bishops of Belgium agreeing to compensate abuse survivors.

BY DAVID KERR (EWTN News/CNA)

| Posted 6/2/11 at 4:53 PM

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ROME (EWTN News/CNA) — Lawyers acting on behalf of Belgian clerical abuse victims say they intend to sue the Vatican, despite the bishops of Belgium agreeing to compensate abuse survivors only two days ago.

The legal team — working on behalf of about 70 victims — claims that the Vatican did not intervene, even when it learned of the sexual scandals in the Belgian Church.

“There were instructions from the Pope that said those things had to be kept secret and silent,” claimed lawyer Christine Mussche at a news conference in the Belgian city of Ghent June 1.

The Bishops’ Conference of Belgium said on Monday, May 30, that it would set up a commission to compensate victims molested so long ago that their cases can no longer be prosecuted. Some reported cases go back several decades.

“As long as there are no concrete results from the arbitration commission, the victims will continue the procedure,” Mussche said.

Mussche added that the text of the summons will be translated into Italian and delivered to the Vatican in the next few days.

More than 500 cases of alleged abuse by priests or Church workers have been registered in Belgium in the past year. The allegations date back to the 1950s. The most shocking amongst them involved Bishop Emeritus Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, who admitted earlier this year to abusing two nephews.

The likelihood of the Belgian legal team succeeding in bringing a suit against the Holy See is low. Several similar attempts in the U.S. in recent years have all failed.

One of the most recent cases came last year, in April 2010, when lawyers for three Kentucky men dropped an attempt to sue the Vatican. Their attorney had initially tried to implicate Vatican officials — and potentially even the Pope — in allegedly ignoring or covering up the mishandling of clergy sex-abuse cases by American bishops.

At the time, Jeffrey Lena, the American lawyer for the Vatican, said that the dropping of the case showed once again that there had never been a Vatican policy requiring the concealment of sexual abuse. He also suggested that such attempted lawsuits only distract from the important goal of protecting children.