Catholic sex abuse prompts reform calls in Belgium

Wed Sep 22, 2010 2:56pm GMT

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Three Roman Catholic bishops in Belgium, reacting to damaging sexual abuse scandals in their ranks, have taken the rare step of urging their Church to consider easing its ban on married men in the priesthood.

The three are all from Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region shocked by the resignation of a prominent local bishop who had sexually abused his nephew. About 85 percent of cases in a recent report on abuse in the Church were also from Flanders.

Mandatory celibacy is frequently criticised by Church reformers, but Pope Benedict is firmly opposed to changing the rule which dates back to the 12th century.

The head of the Belgian Church, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels, has put out the message that the priority for the embattled Belgian Church is to help its victims.

"First things first," his spokesman Jurgen Mettepenningen told Reuters on Wednesday. "The priority is to do what we can for the victims of sexual abuse."

If mandatory celibacy is to be debated, it should be done on a worldwide level and not only in Belgium, he added.

Calls for easing the celibacy rule have grown in Belgium since former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe quit last April after admitting to abusing his nephew for years.

A damning report on 475 abuse cases in recent decades, including 13 where the victims committed suicide, increased pressure this month on the Church to protect children and discipline clerics who committed or condoned sexual abuse.   Continued...

<p>Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium Andre-Joseph Leonard holds a news conference in Brussels September 13, 2010. REUTERS/Yves Herman</p>
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