by David Fortwengler
There are many reasons to love Belgium and its people, but todays action by the Brussels prosecutor makes me love them even more. Police raided the Diocesan headquarters of the Belgian Catholic church and the Bishop’s residence looking for evidence in an ongoing investigation into child sex abuse and high-level cover ups involving Church figures. The documents being confiscated are “to establish if these accusations are backed up or not," said the spokesman, Jean-Marc Meilleur. I hope the prosecutor consulted an honest and informed canon lawyer like Father Tom Doyle who told them where to look for the “secret archives.” Can you picture the Bishop’s face when police asked him for the combination to that safe?
The importance of today’s action cannot be underestimated. Sex crimes, gross institutional negligence, fraud, and conspiracy are not matters for any religious institution to handle themselves. Despite the Catholic Church’s tepid admissions of errors in judgment and mistakes in the past, criminal investigations can only be done by independent civil authorities with the power and expertise to document and punish wrongdoers. We know from experience in the United States that Church officials and lawyers have never willingly released any substantive or meaningful evidence on their own. Only because of grand juries, criminal trials, and civil cases has the truth become known; the abuses are endemic, the bosses are negligent, and the treatment of survivors is hurtful not healing. Hopefully, the example set today by Belgian authorities will resonate across Europe and the world.
Belgium, like most European countries, has a rich history of Catholicism. However, recently it has become a largely secular country with less than 50% of the population identifying themselves as belonging to the Catholic Church. (A number I’m sure is declining daily.) The capitol, Brussels, is home to NATO and is the de facto capitol of the European Union. Their constitution, like ours, also provides for freedom of religion and shows great respect for its practice. Just not when it commits crimes.
Fun Belgian Facts
Soccer and cycling are the most popular sports in Belgium. Native Eddy Merckx is still considered the greatest cyclist of all time. (Sorry Lance) They also love motor sports and host the annual Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix. This week at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships two excellent Belgian women players are competing, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Both have already advanced to the third round. Because I am loving their country today, I say go Kim and Justine!
Tonight I Party
How can you think of Belgium without thinking, “Waffles!” The culinary history of that country is as impressive as the police raiding the diocese offices. The national dish is "steak and fries with salad", they are famous for their many gourmet chocolates (including Godiva), and they produce over 800 varieties of beer (many of which are made at monasteries and abbeys). So, to celebrate tonight I will be dining on Belgian waffles, chocolate and beer. If I can’t find a good Belgian beer, it will just be more waffles and chocolate.