VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican protested on Friday to Belgium over raids carried out on church offices and a cardinal’s home by investigators who even looked into a tomb to find evidence of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.
In a statement, the Vatican expressed “shock” at the way the raids were carried out and “indignation” at what it said was the violation of two cardinals’ tombs. It said Belgium’s ambassador to the Vatican was delivered a formal protest by the Vatican’s foreign minister.
Belgian investigators on Thursday raided two main church offices and the home of a former archbishop, taking away computers and files in a search for evidence.
Police sealed off the offices of the Brussels archdiocese in Mechelen during a meeting of the country’s bishops there and barred them from leaving the premises or telephoning outside for nine hours while they searched, a church spokesman said.
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said officers had also raided the nearby residence of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the former archbishop who stepped down in January as head of the Belgian Church after holding that position since 1979. His computer was confiscated.
“The Secretariat of State expresses its deep shock over the way some of the searches were carried out yesterday ... and its indignation over the violation of the tombs” of two cardinals, the Vatican statement said.
In Brussels, a spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor said on Friday that investigators had partially opened only one tomb, which was within the cathedral itself.
He said that someone present in the cathedral at the time of the raids had told them that work had recently been done to the exterior of the tomb, which is why they chose to check inside.
“They drilled into the tombs of the cardinals. It all seems like something from a novel,” Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard said on Friday.
Child abuse is a particularly sensitive issue in Belgium, where perceived police incompetence over pedophile killer Marc Dutroux provoked mass protests.
A Belgian church spokesman said on Thursday that dossiers containing information from abuse victims who had come forward had been confiscated by investigators.
In Leuven, police searched the office of a church commission tracking complaints and compiling evidence about clerical sexual abuse of minors and took away all 475 dossiers and the computer of commission chairman Peter Andriaenssens.
Judicial searches of church offices or homes of cardinals are extremely rare, even in cases of sexual abuse allegations. In several European countries, church and state have cooperated to set up panels to investigate the scandals.
The Vatican said it also was “saddened” that the confidentiality of the victims of sexual abuse who had contacted a church commission investigating abuse had not been respected.
Allegations of sexual abuse of minors have haunted the Roman Catholic Church in Europe since two damning government reports in Ireland last year exposed the extent of the scandals there.
The Belgian church has apologized for its silence on abuse cases in the past and Archbishop Leonard has promised a policy of zero tolerance toward predator priests.
On Friday, Pope Benedict named Monsignor Jozef De Kesel to be the new bishop of Bruges, replacing Roger Vangheluwe, 73, who resigned in April after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy years ago.
Writing by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Ben Deighton and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Tom Heneghan in Paris; Editing by Louise Ireland and Mark Heinrich