At the end of September, the Belgian Catholic Church was in the eye of the storm. After Godforsaken, a TV series on VRT about years of sexual abuse by clergy, it rained criticism. Because had the church done enough to protect the victims and punish the perpetrators? Roger Vangheluwe’s file, among other things, resurfaced.
Vangheluwe abused his cousin for years when he was a child. When this came out in 2010, he had to resign as bishop of Bruges. A year later he was sent by the Pope to a French monastery, where he has lived in exile ever since. Vangheluwe has retained his titles over the past twelve years. And according to the Belgian bishops, that is no longer acceptable.
Antwerp Bishop Johan Bonny visited Vangheluwe in France in September and urged him to relinquish his titles. Vangheluwe asked for a few days to think about it and then announced that he had sent a letter to Pope Francis. “We don’t know what it says,” Bonny said at a press conference. But he hoped Vangheluwe had done ‘the right thing’. “I have the feeling that something has started moving,” said Bonny.
More than six weeks later, it is still unclear what the letter said and how the Pope will respond to it. The Vatican embassy in Brussels is also in the dark. “Vangheluwe’s letter has arrived in Rome, but we have received no news so far.” And say that there has been extra pressure from our country.
A week after Vangheluwe, the Belgian bishops also sent a letter to the Vatican. In it they urged the Pope to deal with Vangheluwe’s file as soon as possible. “We immediately forwarded that letter to Pope Francis upon receipt,” the embassy in Brussels said. “But we received no further response.”
The silence surrounding the dossier is remarkable, but according to the Vatican should not be interpreted as a sign that the Pope is not interested. “Anyone who thinks that Vangheluwe’s letter is somewhere at the bottom of the pile is wrong,” assured Franco Coppola, the Pope’s ambassador to Belgium, in an interview with HLN. “This is an important and worrying file for us.” According to the embassy, there may be a general delay in the processing of files.
A ‘synod’ took place in the Vatican for almost the entire month of October. This is a conference in which hundreds of clergymen debate with each other about various important themes within the Catholic Church. These discussions last several weeks, take place in complete discretion and absorb all the attention of the Pope and his staff. “Perhaps the synod has caused the daily work to fade into the background,” the embassy said. Recovering the administrative backlog may take some time.
There is also another problem. The Pope has been struggling with his health for more than a week. It would be a common cold, but at his age – Pope Francis will be 87 in December – that is enough to be out of battle. That can also cause delays. Because for an important decision, such as revoking a bishop’s titles, it must be possible to consult personally with the Pope. Despite the delay, the Belgian bishops hope that clarity will emerge in the coming days or weeks. They want to be able to definitively close the Vangheluwe file.