4 July 2010
Belgian child sex abuse police probe death threats
Police investigating claims of child abuse by Belgian clergy have told the BBC they are probing death threats against witnesses and magistrates.
Last month police raided a meeting of Belgium's Catholic bishops as part of their investigation, seizing computers and documents.
They even searched the tomb of at least one cardinal, prompting an angry response from the Vatican.
The country is one of several where the Church has been shaken by abuse claims.
The investigation into child abuse allegations in Belgium's Catholic Church has already prompted extraordinary scenes, says the BBC's Dominic Hughes in Brussels.
But now the investigation has taken an unexpected turn.
Officials say that police are also looking into threats to the lives of some witnesses and magistrates connected to the case.
Jean Marc Meillure, a spokesman for the public prosecutors office, confirmed that an investigation was under way.
"There are some threats against certain people around the case, and the prosecutors office is investigating that," he told the BBC.
He said the threats had been made against people who gave the authorities information or made a complaint, or against some magistrates.
The raid last month on the offices of a Church commission investigating the abuse claims led to some of the country's leading clergy being detained for nine hours.
Police took away their mobile telephones to prevent them communicating with their staff or with the Vatican.
They were also reported to have drilled into the tomb of at a former Belgian cardinal at the cathedral in Mechelen during what seems to have been a frenetic search for possible incriminating documents.
Officers also raided the nearby home of the recently retired archbishop of Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, seizing paperwork and his computer.
The allegations of child abuse by priests in Belgium are just the latest in a string of similar cases that have hit the Catholic Church in Europe and North America.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Vatican condemns police raid on Belgian cardinals tombs
The Vatican has protested after Belgian police drilled into the tombs of two Roman Catholic Cardinals in a search for evidence of paedophile priests.
Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
25 Jun 2010
Police officers raided the St Rambouts Cathedral in the town of Mechelen, north of Brussels, on Thursday acting on allegations that a cache of files concerning a sex abuse cover up was hidden in the crypt.
A Church spokesman confirmed that police officers opened the tomb of Leo Jozef Suenens, Belgian prelate between 1961 and 1979 and the grave of Jozef-Ernest van Roey, who was his predecessor as head of the Catholic Chrurh in Belgium from 1926 until his death in 1961.
"The tombs of Cardinals Suenens and Van Roey were drilled and a camera was pushed into them apparently to see whether there were any hidden documents," said Father Eric De Beukelaer, spokesman for the cathedral.
A Vatican statement yesterday expressed "deep shock over the way some of the searches were carried out yesterday and its indignation over the violation of the tombs".
The latest raids took place during a meeting of bishops in the presence of the Vatican's ambassador to Belgium and the senior clerics were detained as armed police officers carried out their searches.
"No explanation was given, but all documents and mobile phones were confiscated and it was inferred that nobody could leave the building. It was not a pleasant experience," said the statement.
Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, the current head of the Roman Catholic church in Belgium, said that the police and prosecutors had shown "excessive zeal".
"The justice system does its work and it has the right to carry out searches. Nonetheless I find it slightly surprising that it went as far as rummaging around the tombs of cardinals and that all the bishops were held until evening," he said.
Investigators also raided the home of a former cardinal, taking away computers and files in a search for evidence that Catholic clergy have covered up paedophile crimes committed by priests.