Some of the most damning evidence of systematic child abuse by the Roman Catholic clergy to come to light was unveiled today by Belgium's leading authority on paedophilia, who published hundreds of pages of harrowing victim testimony detailing their traumas and suffering.
The explosive report by Peter Adriaenssens in the town of Louvain, east of Brussels, lists evidence of 476 instances of child abuse by priests and bishops going back 50 years.
Adriaenssens was appointed by the church last year to head an independent inquiry into the scandal. Since April, when Roger Vangheluwe, the bishop of Bruges, resigned after admitting persistently molesting a nephew, the Adriaenssens commission has been inundated with evidence, with hundreds of victims coming forward.
He has since documented cases of abuse occurring in almost every diocese in the country and in virtually every school run by the church. "We can say that no part of the country escapes sexual abuse of minors by one or several [church] members," said Adriaenssens.
"This is the church's Dutroux dossier," he added in reference to the notorious Belgian paedophile serial killer, Marc Dutroux, who kidnapped, tortured, abused and murdered six girls in 1995-6.
Speaking of the victims, Adriaenssens said that 13 had killed themselves, according to relatives, and another six had attempted suicide.
The 200-page report includes copious anonymous testimony from 124 of the victims "to honour their courage" in coming forward.
"There are days when I thank God for having the chance to speak," testified one woman.
"Four years of psychotherapy have taught me that silence kills. I have had enormous depressions, going as far as attempted suicide. At other times I think it would be wise to let sleeping dogs lie. But in the end I've chosen to speak ... Since the resignation of the bishop of Bruges, I am living again in anxiety and fear. And I am far away. I've chosen to live far from my country, hoping that the past won't rejoin me."
This testimony was from a woman abused in the 1980s, but most of the cases concerned young boys and teenagers, as well a documented case of a two-year-old boy being molested.
Another victim told of being repeatedly sexually molested by his parish priest for five years from the age of seven.
"From being a violated child, I myself became, several years later, an abuser of adolescents and was sentenced to eight years in jail of which I served four and a half … The priest's violations certainly strongly shaped my sexual identity and influenced my life choices."
The evidence presented, said the daily newspaper Le Soir, was of "immense persistent suffering which neither the church, justice, nor society have been able to assuage … Adriaenssens has done what everyone else declined to do – listen to the victims, understand them, and give them the place they deserve."
The abuse went back to the 1950s, was most common in the 60s and was tailing off by the 1980s, Adriaenssens said.
"The exposed cases are old, of course," he said. "Society has developed. But there's nothing to indicate that the number of paedophiles has diminished. Where are they today?"
Most of the victims were now middle-aged, but remained traumatised. Around half of the abusers had died.
The expert unveiled his report today because yesterday a Belgian court ruled that the material, seized by police in a highly controversial raid in June, was inadmissible in court because of the "disproportionate" police action and ordered it returned.
Pope Benedict criticised the Belgian authorities for "deplorable" conduct when in June they seized the commission's files, raided the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic church, held cardinals and bishops for several hours, took their mobile phones, and carried away computers and documents.
They questioned Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who retired as head of the Belgian church and archbishop of Brussels in January.
Two weeks ago Belgian newspapers published tape recordings of Danneels seeking to hush up the case of Vangheluwe, the Bruges bishop.
Vangheluwe's nephew secretly recorded Danneels pressing him to keep quiet about his uncle at least until he retired next year.
"I don't think you'd do yourself or him a favour by shouting this from the rooftops," the cardinal warned the victim, who replied angrily that his uncle had abused him for 13 years from the age of five.
The recordings were made in April and the bishop resigned two weeks later, the most senior clergyman in the Catholic church to have quit after being exposed for child abuse.
Paedophilia expert unveils harrowing testimony and documents cases in almost every diocese.....Belgium's Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard announcing the resignation of Brugge's bishop Roger Vangheluwe.
The Catholic church just doesn't seem to get it nor does it seem to care. All child abuse sickens me because I just do not understand how anyone can hurt innocent children but what makes it even more horrible to me is the fact that the Catholic church recently compared the possibility of a woman becoming a priest with that of someone being a pedophile. I just pray that those who have been abused can somehow heal.
LES, I WAS BORN INTO THE CATHOLIC RELIGION. ALL MY LIFE I HAVE SEEN THEM JUDGE OTHERS. I DO NOT PRACTICE CATHOLIC RELIGION ANYMORE. I AM A CHILD OF GOD MY CREATOR..I AM A SPIRIT OF LOVE. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS MISSED GOD'S WORDS IN SO MANY WAYS. THEY HAVE MUCH TO ANSWER FOR, AS WE ALL DO. I PRAY THEY SOMEDAY THEY START THE RIGHT WALK WITH OUR LORD.