VATICAN CITY — The pope on Sunday called the raids carried out by Belgian police investigating priestly sex abuse “deplorable” and asserted the right of the Catholic Church to investigate abuse alongside civil law enforcement authorities.
Pope Benedict XVI issued a message Sunday to the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, Monsignor Andre-Joseph Leonard, expressing his solidarity with Belgian bishops “in this sad moment.”
The June 24 raids targeted the home and office of a retired archbishop and also the graves of two prelates. The Vatican has ratcheted up its criticism of the searches, with the Vatican No. 2 on Saturday complaining they were unprecedented.
On Sunday, Benedict took the criticism to a new level, issuing a personal message of support to the Belgian bishops for the “surprising and deplorable way” in which the raids were done.
Police searched the home and former office of former Archbishop Godfried Danneels, taking documents and his personal computer. The raid came as the country’s nine bishops were starting their monthly meeting; the men were held for nine hours and — along with diocese staff — had to surrender their cellphones.
Police and prosecutors have not said if Danneels is suspected of abuse himself or simply had records pertaining to allegations against another person.
Separately, police seized the records of an independent panel investigating sexual abuse by priests, some 500 cases in all. The head of the panel called the raid a huge violation of the privacy of people — mostly men now in their 60s and 70s — who have lived with the shame of abuse.
In his message to the bishops, Benedict stressed that justice must take its course.
But he also repeated that such crimes are handled by both civil and canon law “respecting their reciprocal specificity and autonomy.”
He said he hoped that the “fundamental rights” of individuals and institutions are guaranteed in respect of the victims and recognizing all efforts at collaboration.