Pope Lashes Out at Belgium After Raid on Church

By Rachel Donadio (NY Times)
June 27, 2010

ROME — In a sign of sharply rising tensions between the Vatican and Belgium, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday criticized as "surprising and deplorable" a raid on church property last week by Belgian police investigating sex abuse by clerics.

In an exceedingly rare personal message and rebuke of a sovereign country, the pontiff also stressed the church's "autonomy" to conduct its own investigations and criticized the "deplorable methods" of Belgian police who last week detained bishops, confiscated files and even drilled into the tombs of at least one cardinal in the Brussels cathedral in a search for documents.

"On several occasions I have personally reiterated that such serious issues should be attended to by both civil and canon law, with respect for their reciprocal specificity and autonomy," Benedict said in a statement circulated by the Vatican on Sunday.

He also expressed his "closeness and solidarity" with André-Joseph Léonard, the archbishop of Belgium and the president of the Belgian Bishops' Conference, and the Belgian clergy.

The unprecedented raid by Belgian police came months after the Belgian church, stung like many European countries by allegations of sex abuse by clerics, had created a committee to investigate claims.

On Thursday, police in Leuven also confiscated the case files of that committee and the computer of its director, a well-respected child psychiatrist. The committee director, church authorities and the Vatican have criticized police for violating the privacy of the victims who had come forward.

In Brussels, police also searched the home and former office of former Archbishop Godfried Danneels and took documents and his personal computer. They have not said whether the archbishop himself is under investigation.

Police arrived at church headquarters in Brussels as the bishops were starting their monthly meeting and detained them and their staff for nine hours.

On Saturday, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, called the detention of bishops "serious and unbelievable" and compared the police tactics to those of Communist regimes. He also said that the bishops had been deprived of food and water during their detention.

On Sunday, the Belgian justice minister denied that claim, as did the spokesman for the Belgian Bishops' Conference, who in a statement circulated by the Vatican on Friday said that the raid had been conducted "correctly."

In his message on Sunday, Benedict said he hoped that "justice will run its course," guaranteeing "the fundamental rights of people and institutions" and "the respect for victims."