Even in the big league, rules still matter

That’s a lesson learned, one would hope, by Magistrate Wim De Troy. A court of appeal ruled today that all files and documents seized from the offices of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, the residence of Cardinal Danneels, and the cathedral of St. Rombout in Brussels must be returned to their owners. The raids, during which the files were taken, were judged to be illegal. One would assume that that means the end of Operation Chalice, but investigators still wish to continue their investigation.

It goes to show that, no matter the prejudice one may hold, proper conduct of legal procedures must still be maintained.

Does this mean the Church in Belgium is free from all misconduct? Certainly not. As the recent discussion about Cardinal Danneels – who has admitted that he made mistakes in the Vangheluwe case – shows, much has gone wrong in the past decades. That not only concerns crimes committed, but also the culture of silence that developed around it.

Stefaan De Clerck is not amused

Secretary of Justice Stefaan De Clerck

With Magistrate Wim De Troy, that is.

“I maintain that I do not understand De Troy’s position. Why does this man flagrantly keep saying no? And an unfounded no at that. And if he has motives, let him make them known to us. Because I do not think he would wait with communicating this long if the court had agreed with him wholeheartedly.”

I”m no expert on the Belgian court system, but as far as I understand it, the court that Secretary De Clerck refers to is one which investigated the exact proceedings of the raid and the police investigation into the bishops of Belgium. It would have limited itself to statements about the legality of those proceedings. I’m not sure that that court had the power to forbid continuing investigation.

De Clerck met with court representatives (excluding De Troy) to figure out how the verdict could be made public as soon as possible, “for the benefit of all parties involved”, despite De Troy’s command to keep quiet. Only a full publication will give certainty of what will happen next. Will all the files, computers and paperwork indeed be returned to the bishops, the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels and the offices of the formers Adriaenssens committee? Wait and see.

A suspicious situation just got a bit more suspicious

Wim De Troy, saving his skin?

A short report on Katholiek Nederland, titled ‘Belgian court must remain silent about Operation Chalice’ seems to turn some things on their head. Magistrate Wim De Troy, who ordered the police raids on the Belgian bishops, the cathedral in Brussels, the graves of cardinals and other locations now orders the Public Prosecutor to keep their conclusions about the legality of those raids secret. This is the same De Troy who, it can be reasonably assumed, acted because the Church was not forthcoming enough for him.

Now it is not the Church keeping quiet about possible illegal actions, but the magistrate. Is keeping the findings of the Public Prosecutor secret an attempt at saving his own skin? It is rumoured (and rumour is all we now have to go on), that the prosecutor’s office had some serious criticism against the conduct of De Troy in ‘Operation Chalice’.

And the victims? They still know nothing.

Way to go, Wim De Troy.

Verdict in Belgian police raid, but it’s secret

Belgian broadcast corporation VRT reports that a court in Brussels has decided that the investigation of abuse in the Catholic Church in Belgium may continue. That investigation started with a police raid on the offices of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, the cathedral, the office of the Adriaenssens commission, the home of Cardinal Danneels, and even the graves of deceased cardinals. The Belgian bishops and the nuncio who, as a diplomat, should enjoy diplomatic immunity, were held for almost a full day while police searched for evidence of abuse cases withheld from the courts. None, it now seems, was found.

The official court verdict, reached after the archdiocese lodged an official protest against the raid, is that the investigation may continue and that the examining magistrate responsible may remain in function. He did suffer criticism for his execution of the raid, it is said. However, the verdict itself remains secret.

Lawyer Walter van Steenbrugge (left), representing six of the victims, said: “We had expected to be able to respond to the verdict, but now we know nothing. This is beyond shameful. This is fundamentally at odds with one of the most important articles in the criminal code, which says that victims have the right to receive information about the state of their case. What’s now happening is the exact opposite, and in the context of these very delicate files of seriously aggrieved victims that is very strange.”

A positive side note is that all the files and items taken will have to be returned to the archdiocese, although the judge still need to officially announce that.

So, how further? Not in openness and clarity, I fear. Without a public verdict it will remain unclear if the raid was justified. The victims, who had submitted their cases to the Adriaenssens commission, are still in limbo, not knowing who, if anyone, will now help them.

Thank you, Magistrate Wim De Troy, for destroying what took courage and pain on the part of the victims to achieve.

Source.

Pornography or art?

You decide:

I’ll give it away: it is art. Apparently. This is the photo, deredactie.be reports, that has been found as a so-called ‘temporary file’ on the personal computer of Cardinal Danneels. It is called ‘La Douche II’ and is the product of one Laura Baudoux. Many heralded it as possible proof that the cardinal had been involved in shady business with pedophiles and possibly child rapist Dutroux as well.

Whatever the context, it’s not a pleasant sight, that photo. But now that it is known to be ‘art’ it is apparently suddenly okay to look at a naked child who, let’s face it, looks far from healthy. It probably says more about the state of modern art and society’s understanding of art than it does about the browsing habits of any bishops or cardinal.

Go, check you’re own computer. You’ll probably have a stack of temporary files, many of which will be quite unknown to you. Some may even be as disturbing as the one found on Cardinal Danneels’ computer.

In the meantime, the courts in Belgium have yet to find anything incriminating in the official and personal documents of dioceses and bishops, or even to explain the legality of their raid of two weeks ago.

Something’s rotten in the state of Belgium

As the news concerning Thursday’s police raids in Belgium continues to come in every day, I find myself looking at an uncomfortable picture. I’m not normally one to go for conspiracy theories. I think these are too prevalent in the Catholic blogosphere anyway, but chance dictates that even some of these must sometimes be true.

Here is a very simple time table of events:

Thursday: Police raids, confiscation of documents and computers. Police possibly acts on accusations put forward by retired priest Fr. Rik Devillé. Nothing is found.

Secretary of Justice Stefaan De Clerck

Monday: The Adriaenssens commission disbands after all their case files are confiscated. They return their mandate to the bishops. Justice Secretary De Clerck creates a ‘work group’ of public prosecutors to try and keep the negative results of the commission’s disbanding in check.

Tuesday: Victims call for a parliamentary investigation into sexual abuse in the Church. Fr. Rik Devillé heralds this as the only satisfactory option.

One way to look at the progression of these events is as an orchestrated attempt to take the total anti-abuse effort out of the hands of the Church. While that is only normal for new cases that appear, it is not for the decades-old cases that the Adriaenssens commission was working in. The courts can’t do anything with those cases, since they are subject to a statute of limitations. The fact that they are being investigated show the Church taking the responsibility for the silence of many years. There was now obligation by law to look into these old cases, but there certainly was one towards the victims.

Fr. Rik Devillé

If, by some construction, the courts, or Secretary De Clerck’s ‘work group’, can do something with the 475 old cases taken from the commission, it will do little good. Often punishment if the offenders is not possible: they are either elderly or no longer alive. The prevalent desire among victims is to be heard and acknowledged. The one institution that can do that is the one closest to the offenders: the Church. The courts, the police, parliament or whoever can listen all they want: since they are not even slightly responsible it does not answer the victims’ desire. Also, the much-called-for need for the Church to clean up her past is made impossible. She must now rely on the action or inaction of others to achieve this, whereas before she had the means to do it herself.

And what of Fr. Rik Devillé, who is involved at the begin and the end (for now)? John L. Allen has an interview with him, and while Fr. Devillé’s raises some valid points, it is clear he has a man with an anti-hierarchical agenda, leaning strongly to the liberal left.

Orchestrated set of events or not, it is worrying. Very much so.

A reasonable overhaul

Yesterday’s police intervention in the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels now looks to have been excessively forceful. Not only didn’t the police find any ‘held back paedophilia files’, but in order to do that, they detained all Belgian bishops for nine hours. The bishops had gathered for their monthly meeting. Together with the personnel they were held in one room, forced to surrender their mobile phones and other communication equipment. Although the bishops have stated to have full confidence in the Justice Department, which is why they cooperated fully, to me this sounds as if the bishops are already considered criminals. The only thing lacking is evidence. A very worrying development.

But this, together with the disruptions in the German Diocese of Augsburg, where Bishop Mixa has now accepted his resignation and promised not to challenge it again, is what we can expect more of in the near future. The abuse crisis can lead to nothing else but a full overhaul of everything that helped in covering up the crimes. And that will mean resignations, police investigations and the like. But, as in all things, these need good reason and agreements between all parties to have full effect. If one party does not agree with a bishop’s resignation, we get an Augsburgian situation. If the Justice department ignores agreements made and decides to investigate cases which are many years old and thus subject to the statute of limitations, we get Belgian situations.

A major overhaul, with all the discomfort and chaos it entails, is a simple necessity. But it must be done right to have full effect. And that’s still not happening everywhere.

Translation of the press statement from the bishops, which I linked to above:

“The bishops of Belgium were present in the Archbishop’s house around 10:15 this morning, Thursday 24 June 2010, for the monthly meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. A short while later, around 10:30, members of the Justice department and police officers arrived with a search warrant. At the basis of this are said to have been complaints of sexual abuse within the territory of the archdiocese. More explanation was not given to those present, but immediately all documents and mobile phones were confiscated. No one was allowed to leave the building. Only at 19:30 was that lifted.

Everyone, both the members of the Bishops’ Conference and the personnel of the archdiocese, was interrogated. That was not automatically a pleasant experience, but everything was handled correctly. The bishops have always said that they have full confidence in the courts and their work. They underwent the search of this morning with the same confidence and that is also the reason why they will refrain from any comment at this time.

On the other hand, with Prof. Peter Adriaenssens, chairman of the ‘Committee for the investigation of sexual abuse in the framework of a pastoral relation’, they regret that all the files of the committee were seized during another search. This goes against the right on confidentiality which the victims who have contacted the committee have. An action like this seriously affects the necessary and exemplary work of the committee.”