.- The Bishops of Belgium have apologized for aggression against victims of sexual abuse and for the inadequate support they received. In a pastoral letter, they pledge "concrete measures" to prevent further abuses.
The message, which was delivered by way of a pastoral letter to the Belgian Church, was released within weeks of the bishops' visit Vatican for their "ad Limina." One of the subjects the Belgian bishops discussed with the Pope and Roman Curia officials was sexual abuse against minors.
In the letter to the Belgian faithful, the bishops addressed the "serious damage" to the confidence between priests and the faithful which was caused by the "shockwave" of Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe's resignation on April 23 over his admission that he sexually abused a boy.
Emphasizing that "the safety and protection of children takes priority over anything else," they acknowledged that Church officials did not fully realize the "extent of the child abuse tragedy and its tremendous consequences.
"With this silence, the reputation of the Church institution and of her ministers has been placed ahead of the dignity of young victims," they stated.
“We ask forgiveness of all abuse victims for the aggression and for the inadequate support they received. Likewise, we ask for forgiveness both from the relatives of the victims and from society for the consequences of such abuse," the letter said.
"The abusers got a second chance, while the victims carried in their flesh the injuries that cannot or can hardly heal," it said. "We thank the victims who found the courage to break through this wall of silence by telling what happened to them."
The Belgian Church leaders added that they hope that "the path of reconciliation will still be open to us" and noted that this "crisis" forces those with responsibility in the Church to “face the problems, call them by their name, and address them with the cooperation of competent persons."
The bishops pledged to take action to confront the situation through "concrete measures, with the support of Benedict XVI.” They also vowed to create more stringent entrance requirements for candidates to the priesthood, to commit themselves to providing effective supervision and support to pastoral workers and to draft a code of ethics for those who work with children or vulnerable adults.
The letter closes with a message of gratitude for those who work within the Church for a "more humane and just world" and a prayer that the Holy Spirit give them "enough wisdom and courage to build a church that reflects the genuine love of God to men."