The Church in Belgium

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.

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  • Margaret Cabaniss

    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

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