Some of the most damning evidence of systematic child abuse by the Roman Catholic clergy to come to light was unveiled on Friday by Belgium’s leading authority on pedophilia, who published hundreds of pages of harrowing victim testimony detailing their traumas and suffering.
The explosive report by Peter Adriaenssens in the town of Louvain, east of Brussels, lists evidence of 476 instances of child abuse by priests and bishops going back 50 years.
Adriaenssens was appointed by the church last year to head an independent inquiry into the scandal. Since April, when Roger Vangheluwe, the bishop of Bruges, resigned after admitting persistently molesting a nephew, the Adriaenssens commission has been inundated with evidence, with hundreds of victims coming forward.
He has since documented cases of abuse occurring in almost every diocese in the country and in virtually every school run by the church.
“We can say that no part of the country escapes sexual abuse of minors by one or several [church] members,” Adriaenssens said.
“This is the church’s Dutroux dossier,” he added in reference to the notorious Belgian pedophile serial killer, Marc Dutroux, who kidnapped, tortured, abused and murdered six girls in 1995 to 1996.
Speaking of the victims, Adriaenssens said that 13 had killed themselves, according to relatives, and another six had attempted suicide.
The 200-page report includes copious anonymous testimony from 124 of the victims “to honor their courage” in coming forward.
“There are days when I thank God for having the chance to speak,” one woman testified. “Four years of psychotherapy have taught me that silence kills. I have had enormous depressions, going as far as attempted suicide. At other times I think it would be wise to let sleeping dogs lie. But in the end I’ve chosen to speak ... Since the resignation of the bishop of Bruges, I am living again in anxiety and fear. And I am far away. I’ve chosen to live far from my country, hoping that the past won’t rejoin me.”
This testimony was from a woman abused in the 1980s, but most of the cases concerned young boys and teenagers, as well a documented case of a two-year-old boy being molested.
Another victim told of being repeatedly sexually molested by his parish priest for five years from the age of seven.
“From being a violated child, I myself became, several years later, an abuser of adolescents and was sentenced to eight years in jail of which I served four-and-a-half ... The priest’s violations certainly strongly shaped my sexual identity and influenced my life choices,” he said.
The evidence presented, said the daily newspaper Le Soir, was of “immense persistent suffering which neither the church, justice, nor society have been able to assuage ... Adriaenssens has done what everyone else declined to do — listen to the victims, understand them and give them the place they deserve.”
The abuse went back to the 1950s, was most common in the 1960s and was tailing off by the 1980s, Adriaenssens said.
“The exposed cases are old, of course,” he said. “Society has developed. But there’s nothing to indicate that the number of pedophiles has diminished. Where are they today?”
Most of the victims were now middle-aged, but remained traumatized. Around half of the abusers had died.
The expert unveiled his report on Friday because on Thursday a Belgian court ruled that the material, seized by police in a highly controversial raid in June, was inadmissible in court because of the “disproportionate” police action and ordered it returned.
Pope Benedict criticized the Belgian authorities for “deplorable” conduct when in June they seized the commission’s files, raided the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic church, held cardinals and bishops for several hours, took their mobile phones and carried away computers and documents.
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