Authorities in search of information associated with cases of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels entered the archbishop's offices unannounced on Thursday morning. Elements of the search, which included examinations of tombs in the crypts of the cathedral, were decried by the Vatican on Friday.
The Vatican's Secretariat of State released a statement concerning the matter on Friday afternoon in which they included the full message from the Belgian bishops' spokesman, Eric de Beukelaer, and a note from the office itself.
The June 24 statement from De Beukalaer explains that while in a meeting at the archbishop's offices on Thursday morning, the bishops of Belgium were interrupted by judicial authorities and police effecting a search of the premises, following up on reports of sexual abuse in the archdiocese.
The spokesman reported that no other explanation was given as all documents and cellular phones were confiscated and no one was allowed to leave the building. The lockdown lasted from 10:30 a.m. Thursday until 7:30 p.m.
"It was not a pleasant experience, but everything was carried out in a correct way," he wrote of the interrogations of all present, including office staff.
De Beukalaer added that "the bishops have always said they have confidence in justice and in its work. The present search is accepted with the same confidence, and therefore, for the moment, they abstain from making further comments."
Italy's Corriere online news reported that the "blitz" was not only reserved to the living, officers carrying out "Operation Church" also descended into the crypt of the cathedral, reportedly with pneumatic hammers, to examine tombs for hidden dossiers.
This afternoon the Secretariat of State of the Holy See also issued a reaction in a communique accompanying the release of De Beukalaer's comments.
The secretariat expressed its "great amazement" for the methods used in some aspects of the search and said that the authorities showed "disdain" for the fact that the tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Leon-Josephy Suenens were violated.
"In dismay for such actions," continues the statement, "there is additional regret for several infractions of confidentiality, to which the victims, for whom the search was conducted, have the right."
The statement, made personally by the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti and Mr. Charles Ghislain, Belgian ambassador to the Holy See, also underscored "the firm condemnation of each sinful and criminal act of abuse of minors by members of the Church, as well as the necessity to make reparations and confront such acts in a way consistent with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel."
In his statement, spokesman De Beukalaer expressed the regret of the bishops and Prof. Peter Adriansses, president of the commission responsible for investigating abuses within the pastoral framework, regretted the fact that all of their dossiers had been taken.
This, he wrote, goes against the right to privacy of which the victims who have chosen to approach the commission are due. "This action, then, gravely damages the necessary and excellent work of this commission," the message concluded.