Belgian officials have now responded to the outcry over their raid of Catholic institutions this past weekend — including the tomb of a cardinal — in search of documents relating to sex-abuse cases. They claim the search was prompted by a tip from the former head of an internal Church commission in charge of investigating such cases, who believed the Church may be hiding them. A spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor’s office insisted, “We are not starting an inquisition against the church.”

That answer may not satisfy, but it does speak to a particularly combustible situation in Belgium when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse of minors and the Catholic Church. John Allen explains the situation, calling it a “perfect storm”:

  • In the 1990s, Belgium experienced a horrific pedophilia scandal that left the country extraordinarily sensitive to issues of child sexual abuse.
  • Belgium is among the most secularized corners of Europe, so skepticism of institutional religion, and especially the Catholic church, is a powerful social current.
  • The transition in Brussels this February from Cardinal Godfriend Danneels to Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, a much more conservative figure, cemented impressions in some quarters that the church is turning its back on a spirit of compromise.

Do read the rest of Allen’s take; it offers important insights as to why both Church and secular officials — as well as popular opinion in that country — have responded to the situation the way they have. Any one of these scenarios would make sexual abuse allegations against the Church a sensitive subject; put them together, and you have… well, the explosive situation in Belgium.

 

By

Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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