Belgian archbishop ordered to pay after abuse inaction

A court has ordered Belgium’s most senior Catholic prelate to pay $US10,900 in damages for failing to act on allegations of abuse in the 1990s.

An appeals court in Liege ruled that Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard had to pay following a civil case.

The case was brought by Joel Devillet who was raped by a priest in southern Belgium between 1987 and 1991.

The earliest abuse happened when he was 14 years old and has left him with serious psychological problems.

Mr Devillet, who studied to be a priest himself, told the Namur diocese of his earlier experience of abuse, but received little help.

The diocese failed to notify civil authorities and the only action then-Bishop Leonard took was to transfer the offending priest to another parish.

In 1996 the victim denounced his violator in front of an internal tribunal of the Belgian Catholic Church, which advised him to seek therapy.

Mr Devillet failed in a bid to get a criminal conviction and so launched, and won, a civil suit claiming damages from the priest involved.

The appeals court ruled Archbishop Leonard’s treatment of Mr Devillet’s case constituted misconduct.

The archbishop’s lawyer said his client disagreed with the court judgment, but had not yet decided whether he would appeal.

The lawyer observed that the court had criticised the reaction of the Namur diocese, but had not pointed to anything specific that Leonard should have done.

Archbishop Leonard has been the focus of previous criticism for stating it is vengeful to prosecute retired priests.

He also once said that the Church need not compensate victims.

A report in 2010 found child abuse was widespread in the Belgian Church, and that it had driven at least 13 victims to suicide.

Archbishop Leonard will be required to submit his resignation to the Pope on May 6, when he reaches his 75th birthday.


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