BY SARAH DELANEY IN ROME
A BELGIAN bishop forced to retire after admitting to years of sexual abuse of his nephew has admitted to molesting another nephew, saying it all started “as a game”.
Former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, 74, said he did not consider himself to be a paedophile.
Belgium’s bishops said they were “astounded” and “extremely shocked” by Bishop Vangheluwe’s televised interview. What was most shocking was the way in which the bishop “made light of and justified the crimes committed, and the effects on the victims, their families and, more in general, all of society. This is unacceptable,” they said in a statement reported on Vatican Radio. The bishop “still doesn’t seem to grasp the extreme seriousness of his actions”, they said.
What was said during the interview “is extremely offensive for the victims, their families and for everyone who must confront the problem of sexual abuse. Even for the faithful it’s a slap in the face,” the bishops’ statement said.
Earlier Bishop Vangheluwe had been ordered by Vatican authorities to leave Belgium to undergo “spiritual and psychological treatment.” Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that “obviously” the bishop would be suspended from public ministry while further investigation was underway.
Additional measures may be taken against the bishop, who admitted last year that he had abused his nephew for 13 years, beginning when the child was five years old.
The abuse of the second nephew, which the bishop said lasted less than a year, had not been previously disclosed to the public. Bishop Vangheluwe said his behaviour “had nothing to do with sexuality”.
“I don’t have the impression at all that I am a paedophile. It was really just a small relationship. I did not have the feeling that my nephew was against it, quite the contrary,” he said.
He said the abuse had stopped 25 years ago and that “it was never a question of rape, there was never physical violence used. He never saw me naked and there was no penetration.” “It began as a game with the boys” in cramped quarters during family gatherings, he said.
He first confessed to abuse in April 2010 after the nephew’s family accused him publicly.