As Flanders Today went to press, Vangheluwe (pictured) had retreated into a convent to await news of how his case would be handled. As too many years have passed, he will not face criminal charges, but the prosecutor’s office in Bruges has opened a judicial enquiry into the possibility of other offences. At no point did the victim make a complaint to police.
Rik Devillé, a retired priest who has long campaigned against sexual abuse by the clergy, said that in the 1990s he had informed then-Archbishop Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Bishop Vangheluwe’s abuse. “But I received no reply,” he said. “What became of my information, I do not know.”
A spokesman for the Cardinal denied the claim, saying that Danneels had only become aware of the news at the beginning of this month.
Commentators were quick to point out that the crisis was the most serious the Church in Belgium has ever had to face. Vangheluwe was ordained as a bishop during the period when the abuse was taking place and should not, according to Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard (who recently succeeded Danneels), have accepted the position. “He ought to have refused, because he knew there were skeletons in the closet,” Léonard said.
The claim that it may have been covered up recalls several cases in the late 1990s, one involving a priest in Sint-Gillis in Brussels and one involving a teacher at a Catholic college. Both were moved by the church to new locations, with no further action taken. In 1998, Cardinal Danneels was unsuccessfully sued for negligence for acts committed by the Sint-Gillis priest.
Archbishop Léonard called on other priests who have a history of sexual abuse of minors to come forward to the committee chaired by leading child psychiatrist, Peter Adriaenssens, as Vangheluwe has done. “And that goes for the victims, too,” he said. “We call on them to make themselves known as much as possible. The time for keeping quiet and covering these matters up has passed,” he said.