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Brussels archbishop apologizes amid priest election scandal

Archbishop Luc Terlinden attends a hearing session of the special commission investigating abuse in Church and other situations of power at the Flemish Parliament on Jan. 26, 2024, in Brussels. / Credit: ERIC LALMAND/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, May 10, 2024 / 10:45 am (CNA).

The archbishop of Brussels has apologized to abuse survivors and expressed deep regret over the inclusion of reportedly three perpetrators of sexual abuse on an electoral list for the council of priests. 

“This is a grave mistake on our part, and I extend my deepest apologies to the victims. I acknowledge the mistake and offer my sincerest regret,” Archbishop Luc Terlinden of Mechelen-Brussels said in a press release published May 8.

“I have initiated a thorough investigation and will take appropriate action. In the event that priests known to the archdiocese for abuse are elected to the current Flemish Brabant and Mechelen priests’ council, they will be unable to serve on the council,” Terlinden added.

The council of priests is an advisory body that provides a bishop with guidance and support on ecclesiastical matters and church governance. 

Father Rik Devillé, a vocal advocate for victims of clerical sexual abuse, called for the archbishop’s resignation, local media reported

“Archbishop Terlinden and Bishop Koen Vanhoutte, who oversee this archdiocese, are directly responsible for appointing priests. You don’t sign a document without knowing its contents,” Devillé said, according to VRT.

“Recently, a minister of justice resigned due to an employee’s error. If Archbishop Terlinden adheres to the same standards, he should also resign.”

The Church in Belgium is grappling with a profound fallout from public outrage over the handling of sexual abuse scandals.

According to the 2023 annual report, the number of Catholics requesting their names be removed from the baptismal register was 1.270.

Several prominent Catholics have publicly said they would “de-register” their baptisms to distance themselves from the Church — a move that is supported by the Belgian Data Protection Authority but clashes with the Catholic view of this sacrament as an indelible seal.

The question of how this can be resolved is open and the subject of a legal tug-of-war between authorities and the Church. 

Irrespective of the outcome, as Belgium’s bishops have acknowledged, the number of applications are expected to rise after a documentary series on the topic titled “Godvergeten” — “Godforsaken” — aired in September 2023.

In March, Pope Francis laicized the bishop emeritus of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, many years after the former prelate admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing his nephews.

A previous archbishop of Brussels, the late Cardinal Godfried Danneels, reportedly called on a victim of Vangheluwe’s abuse to remain silent.

The current archbishop, Terlinden, was appointed by Pope Francis just last year. His immediate predecessor was Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, who, in September 2022, made headlines by pushing for the introduction of a liturgy for blessing homosexual unions.

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