As part of a government probe into allegations of child abuse by priests, Cardinal Godfried Danneels was questioned for several hours by Belgian police on Tuesday. Reportedly in “a state of shock,” he is said to have difficulty believing that many people think he knew about sexual abuse and did nothing.
The 77-year-old cardinal led the Catholic Church in Belgium until his retirement last year. A retired priest has accused him of sheltering abusive priests during his tenure from 1979 to 2009, the Agence France Presse reports. The cardinal has denied any cover-up.
During police questioning, Cardinal Danneels was reportedly confronted by Dr. Peter Adriaenssens, a psychiatrist who formerly headed a church-backed commission probing hundreds of reported cases of clerical child abuse.
As he was leaving the police building, Adriaenssens told reporters he could not and did not want to talk about the contents of what he called a “confrontation.”
“Justice must now do its work,” he said, according to the AFP.
"Regarding Cardinal Danneels' state of mind, he is clearly in a state of shock," the psychiatrist continued. “It is very difficult for him to know that a good number of people thought that he knew and did nothing. “He is surprised that such serious facts are being linked to him.”
In late June, police raided the Belgian Church’s headquarters, seized computer files from the cardinal’s home, and drilled into tombs in the cathedral's crypt to search for sex abuse dossiers. Lawyers for Cardinal Danneels and for the Archbishop of Brussels-Mechelen have questioned the legality of the raid.
Adriaenssens had resigned his position as a result of the abuse commission’s materials being confiscated. He has faulted the authorities for allegedly betraying the trust of nearly 500 victims who had made their complaints in confidence. He also has blamed state prosecutors for questioning victims too traumatized to speak to the police.
Leading prelates in Belgium have been accused of covering up sexual abuse and even committing abuse themselves.
The Bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe resigned in April after admitting to sexually abusing a boy for years.