Ex-bishop in Belgian abuse scandal goes to hiding

Associated Press/September 10, 2010

Brussels - The former Belgian bishop who resigned in April after admitting he sexually abused a nephew for years said Friday he would go into hiding to assess his future, despite calls for him to leave the church immediately.

Roger Vangheluwe said in a statement he would immediately leave an abbey in his bishopry of Bruges, where he has been staying since his April 23 resignation. His bishopry has urged him to seek another place to live, and several victims of sexual abuse by clergy as well as a prominent senator have called on him to leave the church as an institution.

Vangheluwe gave no response to the calls for him to step out of priesthood, but said that "as of today, I will contemplate my life and future somewhere hidden, outside the bishopry of Bruges."

His April admission triggered a huge crisis in the Belgian Roman Catholic Church. On Friday, a commission presented a report of hundreds of sex abuse victims over the past half century with harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy that reportedly led to at least 13 suicides.

Vangheluwe had been Belgium's longest serving bishop when he resigned, one year shy of retirement. The scandal acerbated when secret tapes of a discussion between the former head of the Belgian church, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, and the victim showed the cardinal wanted to keep the scandal secret until the bishop retired.

On Saturday, Vangheluwe again admitted guilt and asked for forgiveness "to our church, to society, and all people marked by the suffering."

"My remorse has increased now that I see how much evil happened, partly because of me," he said in a statement read out by a spokesman for the Belgian church.

Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard, who was appointed earlier this year, said he would present a new initiative Monday on how to deal with cases of abuse, prevent further abuse and help victims seek closure.

Danneels, Leonard's predecessor, acknowledged Wednesday that damage control often took precedence in Belgium over concerns for victims in sexual abuse cases involving clergy.

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