Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bishop in Belgium Steps Down Over Abuse

The longest-serving bishop in Belgium resigned Friday after admitting to sexually abusing “a boy in my close entourage” many years ago, becoming the latest cleric to quit in a spreading abuse scandal.

The development added to a corrosive catalog of disclosures that has damaged the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church and shaken the trust of many believers in their spiritual leaders.

In a statement issued by the Vatican on Friday, Roger Vangheluwe, 73, the bishop of Bruges since 1985, said that the abuse had occurred “when I was still a simple priest and for a while when I began as a bishop.”

“This has marked the victim forever,” he said.

The bishop said that he had asked the victim and his family several times to forgive him, but that the wound had not healed, “neither in me nor the victim.” A recent media storm merely deepened the trauma, he said. “I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

This week, in a rare public comment directly addressing the issue of abuse, Pope Benedict XVI promised that the church would take action to deal with the crisis.

Bishop Vangheluwe is the first Belgian bishop to step down since the abuse scandal began to erupt in recent months in several European countries. Bishops elsewhere have resigned, though. On Thursday the church authorities in Germany said that Bishop Walter Mixa, one of the country’s most prominent and outspoken conservative clerics, had tendered his resignation after being accused of beating children decades ago.

On the same day, the Vatican said the pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare and Leighlin, Ireland. Bishop Moriarty had been cited in an Irish government report on the mishandling and concealment of cases of priestly abuse.

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