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.