Following the release of a “painful” report about sexual abuse, the Catholic Church in Belgium has announced a five-point plan to help respond to allegations. Church leaders have pledged to help more victims and priests to come forward, to collaborate more with law enforcement, to enforce canon law, and to include victims in planning future reforms.
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels André-Mutien Léonard, speaking on behalf of the country’s bishops, said that the Church will set up a center of “recognition, reconciliation and healing” before December.
Last Friday an independent panel released its report containing the accounts of hundreds of sex abuse victims abused by Catholic clergy in Belgium over the past 50 years. Most of the abuse happened in the 1960s and 1970s. Abuse was present throughout all Belgium dioceses but was especially prevalent at Catholic boarding schools. It included oral and anal abuse as well as forced self-abuse.
The report highlighted the claims of family members that at least 13 victims committed suicide as a result of the abuse, while hundreds more victims said they suffered continued trauma.
At a Monday news conference, Archbishop Leonard said a feeling of “anger and powerlessness” had taken hold of the Church.
"The report and the suffering it contains make us shiver," he told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "We want to draw the necessary lessons from the mistakes of the past."
The archbishop said there was no easy way out of the crisis but progress would have to involve “a long process of truth.”
He later told VRT television that the report was “impressive, perplexing but also very positive.”
“It was exactly what we wanted — transparency and that truth come to light,” he remarked.
"We want to and have to come clean with the past," Bishop of Antwerp Johan Bonny remarked, according to the AP. "We have had the courage to let the commission do its work and publish its conclusions. A major step has been taken, however painful it is."