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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict denounced on Sunday as "surprising and deplorable" raids by Belgian police on Church offices and the home of a cardinal this week during an investigation into pedophilia by Roman Catholic priests.
In a letter to the head of the Belgian bishops conference, Benedict expressed his "solidarity" after Thursday's search of two Church offices and the home of a former archbishop, during which computers and files were removed and at least one tomb was opened.
Belgium's bishops, who were holding a meeting at the time of the raids, were kept incommunicado for nine hours while the searches were conducted.
"At this sad time, I wish to express ... my closeness and solidarity for the surprising and deplorable ways in which the searches were carried out," the pope said in his message.
"I hope that justice will follow its course while guaranteeing the rights of individuals and institutions, respecting the victims, (and) acknowledging those who undertake to collaborate," Benedict added.
The Vatican protested to Belgium on Friday, expressing "shock" at the way the raids were carried out and "indignation" at what it said was the violation of tombs.
The Belgian Church was rocked in April when the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned and admitted to sexual abuse before and after becoming a bishop. He was the first European bishop to step down for committing sexual abuse of minors himself.
The Belgian Church has apologized for its silence on abuse cases in the past and its new leader, Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, has promised a policy of zero tolerance toward predator priests.
Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Michael Roddy