Police Raid Office of Catholic Church Officials

Country: Belgium

Date of incident: June 24, 2010

Belgian officials search the offices of the Catholic Church in Belgium. The raid has been condemned by the Pope and investigation is underway to determine its lawfulness.

On June 24, Belgian police raided offices of the Catholic Church in Belgium to search for evidence of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Their action has caused a chorus of disapproval in Belgium and beyond. The Belgian bishops’ conference said police went so far as to drill into the tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Leon-Joseph Suenens, former archbishops of Mechelen-Brussels, and insert cameras to search for concealed documents. Authorities also detained the Belgian bishops for ten hours, confiscated their mobile phones and forbid them to leave the premises even after they had been questioned. The Church said they also broke privacy laws by seizing the committee’s archives and raiding the home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the recently retired archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. The Brussels prosecutor said the search was ordered after a string of accusations of pedophilia against “a certain number of Church figures.” Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck defended the action, saying on Belgian television over the weekend that it was within the law and that the bishops were “treated normally.” He said the raid will be “assessed retrospectively” to see if it was disproportionate. The country’s foreign minister, Steven Vanackere, told the U.K.’s The Independent newspaper that the Church should not try to impede the work of the judiciary and should “react with balance.” But Belgian canon lawyers claim that seizing all Church archives appears to breach an article of the country’s constitution. Father Robert John Araujo, an expert in international law, said Belgium has yet to explain why it has not honored the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 17(1) specifies: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.” Writing in the June 28 edition of Corriere della Sera, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, stresses that the Church does not want to cover up any crimes, but is simply asking that its freedom be respected. In a statement issued on June 26, Pope Benedict XVI called the police search “surprising and deplorable” and said that, “these serious matters should be dealt with by both civil law and canon law, while respecting the specific nature and autonomy of each.” He expressed hope that justice will run its course, respecting the rights of victims as well as institutions. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/7852125/Child-sex-abuse-raid-on-Belgian-Catholic-Church.html