Uncovering Sexual Abuse: The Godvergeten Documentary and the Call for a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry in Flanders

2023-09-27 17:14:00

The broadcast of the documentary “Godvergeten” on VRT, in which victims of sexual violence committed by religious people and their relatives gave their testimony, caused a considerable shock wave in Flanders. A broad consensus is emerging in favor of a parliamentary commission of inquiry.

A case is causing a lot of noise in the north of the country. A documentary broadcast by our colleagues from the Flemish public channel VRT relaunches the scandal of sexual abuse committed within the Church. We discuss the testimonies of certain victims, abused by priests, but also the responsibilities of certain senior officials of the Church in Belgium, such as Roger Van Gheluwe, a former bishop of Bruges.

In 2010, Van Gheluwe admitted to sexually abusing his nephew, Mark Van Gheluwe. The VRT documentary reveals a conversation between the two of them and Cardinal Danneels, the transcription of which follows.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels: “You are sorry, I hear you are asking for forgiveness.”

Roger Van Gheluwe: “I beg your pardon if you can give it.”

Cardinal Godfried Danneels: “As I see you, you also suffer from it and not only Mark.”

Mark Van Gheluwe: “Why do you pity him and not me?”

Cardinal Godfried Danneels: “I find what he says very serious. It is a bad thing and I expressly ask for forgiveness.”

Mark Van Gheluwe: “And that’s all?”

Le cardinal Godfried Danneels: “C’est humiliant.”

Mark Van Gheluwe: “It’s humiliating for me too, you know. From when I was 5 to when I was 18, can you imagine?”

Cardinal Godfried Danneels: “So asking for forgiveness is not enough?”

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Mark Van Gheluwe: “No, it’s not possible for me. I don’t believe it anymore.”

Roger Van Gheluwe had to leave Belgium. But for these facts, he was never punished by the Vatican. Today he retains the title of priest and bishop. After the documentary was broadcast, the bishops’ conference asked him to distance himself from his functions. “The bishops’ conference contacted Roger Van Gheluwe in recent days, explained Johan Bonny, bishop of Antwerp. And we said, ‘We urgently insist that you contact Rome, because that’s the procedure. If the answer is no, we will forcefully draw the attention of Rome, ‘We expect you to act'”.

For years, the conference has been asking Rome to strip Roger Van Gheluwe of his ordinations, without success so far. “The facts were largely prescribed, recalls Tommy Scholtès, spokesperson for the bishops of Belgium. But it is necessary that, despite the prescription of the facts perpetrated by Roger Van Gheluwe, let him no longer be a bishop and no longer be a priest.”

Was the judicial investigation opened around ten years ago carried out correctly? What about the treatment of victims of sexual abuse in the Church? The majority of political parties are calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry.

Furthermore, we learn this evening that the Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, and the Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, will meet on Thursday with representatives of victims of sexual abuse committed by priests. They will also meet with the Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny.

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