Pope Francis laicizes Belgian ex-bishop and abuser Roger Vangheluwe

Roger Vangheluwe Pope Francis on March 21, 2024, laicized Bishop Emeritus of Bruges, Belgium, Roger Vangheluwe (center), years after the former prelate admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing his nephew when the latter was a minor. | Credit: Carolus, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis has laicized Bishop Emeritus of Bruges, Belgium, Roger Vangheluwe, years after the former prelate admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing his nephew when the latter was a minor. 

The apostolic nunciature to Belgium said in a statement on Thursday that “serious new elements” had come to light regarding Vangheluwe, who resigned in 2010 after having admitted to the sexual abuse of his nephew from when the youth was 5 years old.

The “new elements” included the recent testimony of a victim that led to a reexamination of the case. On March 8 the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith recommended Pope Francis dismiss Vangheluwe from the clergy. 

Francis “granted the request, ordering that the proposed sentence be imposed,” the nunciature said.

Vangheluwe reportedly “asked to be allowed to reside in a place of retreat, without any further contact with the outside world, in order to dedicate himself to prayer and penance.”

The pope’s hesitation in the matter had threatened to overshadow his planned trip to Belgium: Francis is due to visit the country later this year for the 600th anniversary celebrations of the University of Louvain.

The Belgian bishops had already repeatedly demanded that the Vatican laicize the now-87-year-old man, as had large sections of Belgian society. 

In January, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo had called for Vangheluwe, who was still living as a cleric at the time, to be stripped of his episcopal title.

Two nephews sexually abused

Vangheluwe had initially admitted to having sexually abused an underage nephew for years. He resigned from his office in 2010. A few months later, he admitted on Flemish television that he had sexually abused another nephew, who was also a minor. He also revealed that he had paid the victim’s family large sums of hush money.

The case also caused a stir because the controversial Cardinal Godfried Danneels called on a victim of abuse to remain silent — and Danneels nevertheless took part in the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family “at the express request of Pope Francis.”

Vangheluwe’s successor as bishop of Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, had already suggested to the perpetrator in 2010 that he apply for a transfer to the laity.

Prior to this week’s decision, the ex-prelate apparently rejected the move. According to CathoBel, he had “taken note” of the pope’s decision. Just this week, members of a child protection organization hung banners outside the abbey in France where the perpetrator lives.

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