Belo, 74, a priest of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, led the Archdiocese of Dili as apostolic administrator from 1988–2002. Along with current East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, Belo jointly received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his nonviolent resistance and advocacy amid the 1975–1999 Indonesian annexation and occupation of the country.
The Vatican’s statement comes after a left-leaning Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, published on Sept. 28 an investigation into allegations of abuse, including rape, allegedly committed by Belo against teenage boys, both before and after he became apostolic administrator of Dili.
The investigation anonymously quotes two alleged victims, now in their 40s, who say the bishop abused his position of power over boys in the area who lived in extreme poverty. De Groene says their reporters spoke to “several victims and 20 people with knowledge of the matter,” about half of whom “know a victim” of Belo’s alleged abuse.
According to the investigation, allegations against Belo first came to light in 2002. That same year, St. John Paul II accepted Belo’s sudden resignation as apostolic administrator — which at the time Belo said was done for health reasons. The Vatican has not yet confirmed whether or not it had knowledge of the abuse allegations against Belo at the time of his resignation.
The following year, Belo left East Timor for Portugal, and in 2004 he took up a missionary post in the Portuguese-speaking African nation of Mozambique, returning to Portugal a few years later. Belo told UCA News in 2005 that while in Africa, he taught catechism classes to children and gave retreats for young people.
Ramos-Horta declined to comment on Belo’s case to the Associated Press. The Salesian order in Portugal says that Belo did not have “any educational or pastoral positions or responsibilities” with the group in the country.