Belgian abuse victims to file suit against Vatican

Wed Jun 1, 2011 2:02pm EDT
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GHENT, Belgium (Reuters) - Belgians molested by Catholic priests will go ahead with their legal proceedings against the Vatican for damages despite an offer by local bishops to compensate them, their lawyers said on Wednesday.

Pope Benedict enjoys diplomatic immunity but other Vatican officials and Belgian bishops will be summoned to testify in the case, lawyer Walter van Steenbrugge said.

Christine Mussche, another lawyer for about 70 victims, said the Vatican failed to intervene even when it learned about the scandals in the Belgian Church. Over 500 cases of alleged abuse have been registered in the past year.

"There were instructions from the pope that said those things had to be kept secret and silent," she said, adding the Church could be guilty of harmful neglect under Belgian law.

The Belgian bishops' conference said on Monday that it would set up a commission to compensate victims molested so long ago that their cases can no longer be prosecuted. Some reported cases go back several decades.

"As long as there are no concrete results from the arbitrage commission, the victims will continue the procedure," Mussche told a news conference.

Several victims explained why they were part of the suit which the lawyers said they would file in Ghent in September.

"All the security I had in my life was gone because the priest who abused me and whom I had trusted had shaken me to the core," said Walter Franckaert, now 58.

Fighting to hold back tears, Jeroen Vyncke, 41, said he wanted "a just compensation (for) missed professional chances and the lack of long-term social relationships."   Continued...

<p>Belgian lawyers Walter Van Steenbrugge (L) and Christine Mussche (2nd L) arrive at a news conference in Ghent June 1, 2011. Lawyers representing sexual abuse victims announced a class action suit against the Catholic Church because of the abuse scandal. They plan to name the Belgian bishops, heads of religious orders and the Vatican. REUTERS/Eric Vidal</p>