Belgium: 80 to sue Vatican over sex abuse

The church scandal surfaced last April with revelations of a bishop abusing his nephew for 13 years.

Brussels: Belgian media report that 80 people who say they were sexually abused by priests or monks plan to
sue the Vatican as well as the country`s Catholic church and
its highest authorities.

The announcement comes days after the Belgian church said
it was willing to pay compensation to victims of sexual abuse
by clergy.

Belgian newspapers are quoting two lawyers handling the
suit, Walter Van Steenbrugge and Christine Mussche, as saying
it will run in parallel with compensation negotiations.

They quote Mussche as saying "all judicial means will be
used to pursue flagrant violations of human rights, the rights
of children and crimes against humanity."

Among several victims who stood up to denounce the church`s failure to stem the sexual abuse -- grey-haired men in their 50s and 60s -- was journalist and author Roel Verschueren, abused by Jesuits from the age of 12 to 14 "just around the corner from here," he said.

"We`ve all been living for years with a church which is in denial," he said. "Now we`re turning the situation around. We`re in charge, we`re choosing an independent judicial framework."

Verschueren said the victims first and foremost wanted the church to admit its guilt and to pay for the trauma of lost childhoods and lost years.

"The victims of sexual abuse are often people who`ve lost their pride and self-dignity," he said. "They need fast help. In the United States, people win compensation of USD 160 million, here and elsewhere in Europe you`re offered EUR 5,000 to shut up."

Accused of showing little compassion for the victims as evidence of misconduct piled up in recent months, the Belgian church this week offered compensation via an as yet inexistent arbitration panel suggested by Parliament.

One of the lawyers, Christine Mussche, said "this is a positive move by the church but for the moment it`s no more than words."

Under the class action suit launched on Wednesday, the Ghent Tribunal is expected to set hearings for the case in September, the lawyers said.

The scandal in the Belgian church surfaced last April with revelations that the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had abused a nephew for 13 years.

He was exiled by the Vatican to a French monastery for spiritual reflection but while there confessed in an interview to abusing another nephew, and then went missing.

That development further angered victims of church sexual abuse and left the Vatican "stupefied”, coming days after it sent him into exile.

Bureau Report

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