Thursday, August 19, 2010

Belgian Appeals Court: Police Raid on Church Headquarters Was Illegal

In the absence of an official statement from Belgium's judiciary, the lawyer for the Archdiocese of Brussels-Mechelen announced the court's decision that the police raids of the archbishop's offices and Cardinal Danneel's residence in June were unlawful.

The surprise search of the archdiocesan headquarters and other Church properties, called "Operation Chalice" by local authorities, took place on June 24. Police evidently sought to uncover evidence that the Church had willingly hidden information about clerical sex abuse cases.

In an Aug. 13 press conference, noting silence from the appeals court concerning its decision, the Belgian Bishops Conference announced the court's ruling that the search was illegal.

A statement from the archdiocese said that Fernand Keuleneer, the attorney for the archdiocese, was surprised by the prosecution's silence on the decision, especially after the press was, as he put it, so "welcome" during and following the search. The lawyer did, however, concede that the court had no legal obligation to disclose its decision.

As a result of the court's ruling, the items seized, which consist mostly of boxes of files from the now-defunct Interdiocesan Commission on Sexual Abuse and their computers, must be returned and the dossiers from the local judicial investigation must be destroyed.

The bishops expressed their hope that confidence would be restored following this ruling. The new Belgian Bishop's Conference spokesman J├╝rgen Mettepenningen also said that the bishops are exploring how to best help victims at this point.

As for the original scope of the search, Keuleneer told Vatican Radio this week that its "substance" is still rather unclear. The search was on such a large scale "that one asks himself if there were concrete, specific elements (to it), or if the scope wasn't rather that of going in 'blind' hoping to find something …"

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