Belgian Catholic Church launches survey to address abuse scandals

Sarhan Basem

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – The Belgian Catholic Church is launching an online survey to gather input from victims of clerical abuse, following state inquiries into sexual abuse within the church. The survey will also gauge interest in meeting Pope Francis during his September visit to Belgium.

How is the Belgian Catholic Church addressing abuse issues?

The Belgian Catholic Church has revealed it is opening an online survey to attend from clerical abuse victims, as the religious association considers how to execute recommendations recently made by state inquiries into sexual abuse. The survey will also measure interest from victims in fulfilling Pope Francis when he visits Belgium in September of this year.

What prompted the Belgian Catholic Church’s online survey?

A documentary circulated in September of last year by Flemish national broadcaster VRT, Godvergeten (which approximately translates to ‘Godforsaken’), sent shockwaves via the Flanders community and provided voice to victims of abuse committed by religious figures within parish, school and family settings.

It blazed a fresh light on historic misuses within the Belgian Catholic Church and led to both the Federal and Flemish parliaments installing separate committees of inquiry. Both parliaments issued their final reports in May of this year, each pushing at least 100 suggestions on how to handle child abuse and sexual brutality in the church and wider society.

What impact did the VRT documentary have?

The Bishop’s Conference of Belgium (BCB), which is a constituent of Catholic bishops across the country, assembled for two days this week to listen to the incidents of victims of sexual abuse, and develop a “dialogue” about the best ways to execute recommendations made by the parliamentary committees.

The Belgian Catholic Church stated that as it desires to hear from the “broadest possible grouping of victims”, it is also extending an online form for victims. Individuals who have previously been in communication with the Adriaenssens Commission (the Belgian Church’s now-defunct connection point for sexual abuse matters) or the Center for Arbitration for sexual abuse are requested to participate in the online survey. Researchers from the University of Leuven will be helping in analysing the results, but this functioning will be done anonymously.

Who will the survey by the Belgian Catholic Church benefit?

The survey is being organised on behalf of the Belgian Catholic Church by the Dignity Foundation. Managed by Professor Manu Keirse, the foundation operates on behalf of the church as a main point of contact for victims of clerical abuse.

In May 2024 Flemish Parliament also unanimously embraced a resolution with more than 100 recommendations to handle sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and broader society. The Chamber voted via the resolution which came about as a consequence of VRT’s documentary Godvergeten (which roughly translates to ‘Godforsaken’), which aired in September of last year and sent shockwaves through the Flanders community. The sequence gave voice to victims of often historic misuse perpetrated by religious formations within parish, school and family settings.

Following the documentary’s aird, the Flemish Parliament launched a special commission to explore how best to support victims of abuse. The commission also prepared the resolution proposal. Among the 101 proposals unanimously embraced by the Flemish Parliament is the establishment of another investigative committee in the next legislature (after the elections), committed to ‘Operation Chalice’: a more comprehensive investigation into clerical misusage in Belgium established by the Federal Prosecutor over a decade ago.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.