BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Child sexual abuse was widespread in the Belgian Catholic Church and drove at least 13 victims to suicide, according to a report published on Friday.
“Almost every institution, every school, particularly boarding schools, at one time harboured abuse,” Peter Adriaenssens, the head of a Church commission monitoring complaints, told a news conference.
Most Catholic schools in Belgium are subsidised by the state.
The commission disbanded in June after investigators seized its files in raids on Church offices seeking evidence of sexual abuse,
More than half of its 200-page report, based on cases recorded up till then, consists of excerpts of testimony from victims.
“In the case of 13 of the victims, it was reported that they committed suicide and this was related to sexual abuse by a priest,” the report said.
The 475 cases it recorded included victims as young as two. Two-thirds were male and boys aged about 12 were particularly vulnerable. In most cases, abuse tailed off when victims reached 15 or 16.
Adriaenssens said: “With these testimonies, it was not about superficial handling. It was about oral and anal abuse, forced and mutual masturbation. In other words, it was about people who had experienced serious acts.”
He said the commission found no evidence that the Church had systematically sought to cover up abuse, although it had found instances when nothing was done.
“Silence is a sickness in society as a whole,” he said.
The peak of abuse appeared to have been in the 1960s, the report concluded, with a sharp drop in the 1980s.
Adriaenssens said many of the abusers, about half of whom had since died, had close ties to the victims’ families. Victims often had no one to turn to given these were people the family trusted.
The commission itself received the most complaints following the resignation of the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, at the end of April.
The bishop admitted he had sexually abused a nephew, the first known case of high-level abuse in the Catholic Church in Belgium.
The commission said the limitation period was a problem in the case of abuse because victims typically came forward only as adults, years after the abuse had occurred.
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Andrew Dobbie