- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium’s longest serving bishop resigned Friday, saying he was “enormously sorry” for having sexually abused a young boy about 25 years ago.

The resignation of Roger Vangheluwe, 73, the bishop of Bruges since 1984, was the first from Belgium since a child abuse scandal began testing the Catholic Church several months ago in Europe and the United States.

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Belgium read a statement in which Bishop Vangheluwe announced his resignation and admitted to sexual abuse.

“When I was not yet a bishop, and some time later, I abused a boy,” Bishop Vangheluwe said in the statement. He did not attend the news conference, but said Pope Benedict XVI had accepted his resignation.

“This has marked the victim forever. The wound does not heal. Neither in me nor the victim,” Bishop Vangheluwe’s statement said, adding that he repeatedly has asked the victim and his family for forgiveness.

“I am enormously sorry,” he said. Bishop Vangheluwe had been due to retire next year.

Archbishop Leonard called Bishop Vangheluwe a “great brother and dynamic bishop,” but said that his transgression would shock many.

“We are aware of the crisis of confidence his resignation will set in motion,” Archbishop Leonard said. But he stressed the Catholic Church in Belgium was determined to “turn over a leaf from a not very distant past.”

Archbishop Leonard became Belgium’s archbishop this year.

In his Easter homily, he addressed the pedophilia scandals that have surfaced in the Catholic Church, saying that in the past “the reputation of church leaders was given a higher priority than that of abused children.”

As elsewhere, the Catholic Church in Belgium has a weak record of cracking down on sexual abusers in its ranks.

In 2000 it created a panel to look into abuse complaints that quickly clashed with the church leadership. The panel has accused the church of tardiness in compensating victims.

Hundreds of people have come forward in recent months, including in Pope Benedict’s native Germany, accusing priests of raping and abusing them while bishops and other church higher-ups turned a blind eye.

This week, the Vatican has said it would do everything in its power to bring justice to abusive priests and implement “effective measures” to protect children.

It recently published guidelines instructing bishops to report abuse to police when civil laws require it. The Vatican insists that has long been church policy, though it was never before explicitly written.

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