Top Belgian Catholic vows silence after uproar

Fri Oct 29, 2010 11:49am GMT

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Belgium's Roman Catholic leader has sworn off public remarks until Christmas after outraging public opinion twice this month with jarring comments about AIDS and a call for mercy for retired paedophile priests.

Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, already under fire because of the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests, caused a storm two weeks ago when he said in a new book that AIDS was "a sort of inherent justice."

Politicians, abuse victims and some leading lay Catholics rounded on him again this week after he said that prosecuting retired priests for abuse they committed long ago was "a kind of vengeance" that they should be spared.

"We're in a very serious crisis and the last thing we need is more commotion," Leonard's spokesman, Jurgen Mettepenningen, told Belgium's VTM television on Thursday evening.

"I've agreed with Archbishop Leonard that there should now be as much radio silence as possible until Christmas" so that the Church can concentrate on overcoming the crisis and carrying out its main task of preaching the Gospel, he said.

Belgium's Catholic Church ranks just after Ireland's as the Church hardest hit by a wave of sexual abuse scandals that rolled across Europe in the past two years.

A popular bishop quit in April after confessing to abusing his nephew, and a cardinal's reputation was badly tarnished by accusations of covering up sex scandals, which he denies. Almost 600 alleged cases of past abuse have been registered since then.

Losing patience with the bishops, the lower house of parliament decided on Thursday to set up a special commission to investigate the abuse crisis. One deputy suggested changing tax laws to reduce a state subsidy the Church receives.   Continued...

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