Pope defrocks Belgian bishop after sexual assaults

Pope defrocks Belgian bishop after sexual assaults
Pope defrocks Belgian bishop after sexual assaults

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Pope Francis gestures at the end of the weekly general audience on March 20, 2024 at St Peter's square in The Vatican. — AFP pic

BRUSSELS, March 22 — Pope Francis has stripped a disgraced Belgian bishop of his title, which he retained for 14 years after admitting to years of child abuse, the Belgian Bishops’ conference said yesterday.

Roger Vangheluwe, 87, resigned as bishop of Bruges in 2010 after acknowledging sex abuse of two nephews.

He has been “returned to the secular state”, Belgian bishops spokesman Tommy Scholtes told AFP.

It is “shameful that Roger Vangheluwe was able to officially remain a bishop and priest”, Scholtes added, pointing out that Belgian bishops had called for action several times in recent years.

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Vangheluwe was not prosecuted due to Belgium’s statute of limitations but thousands of victims came forward after he resigned.

The Pope’s decision comes after the scandal resurfaced in autumn 2023 when a documentary was broadcast, denouncing the Church’s decades-long silence on sexual assaults by clergymen.

In principle, defrocking Vangheluwe means he can go “wherever he wants”, but the bishops have insisted he stays in seclusion in the French abbey where he is currently staying, the conference said.

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Expelling a prelate is a rare occurrence and is considered one of the most serious punishments for a member of the clergy — who would be stripped of all rights as priest, such as the right to say Mass in private or public.

In 2019, Pope Francis also defrocked Theodore McCarrick, the onetime archbishop of Washington, after sexual misconduct with adults and at least one minor.

Francis has made combating sexual assault in the Church one of the main missions of his papacy, and insisted on a “zero tolerance” policy in the wake of multiple wide-reaching scandals. — AFP

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