Belgium church panel on sex abuse shuts after raid

Brussels, Belgium - A Catholic panel investigating clerical sex abuse in Belgium is shutting down to protest a police raid on its church offices last week, the group's chairman said Monday.

Peter Adriaenssens, a child psychiatrist who chaired the panel, said Belgian authorities betrayed the trust of nearly 500 victims who had made complaints over the past two months to the church panel and blamed state prosecutors for pursuing victims too traumatized to speak to police.

"We were bait," he said.

Authorities seized church documents and computers, detained bishops and even opened up a prelate's crypt on June 24.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI denounced the raids as "deplorable" and said such an intrusion into church affairs was unprecedented even under communism. It was his first public comment on the deepening diplomatic rift between Belgium and the Vatican over the police raids.

Adriaenssens linked the raids to a state investigation into a possible cover-up of abuse by the Catholic Church.

The Belgian church was rocked by the April 24 resignation of its longest-serving bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, who stepped down after admitting sexually abusing a young boy during when former Archbishop Godfried Danneels was in charge.

The revelation came as hundreds of cases of abuse were being reported across Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, exposing cover-ups by bishops and evidence of long-standing Vatican inaction to stop it.

Danneels resigned in January after victims said he had not responded to their complaints.

The Catholic panel had been in existence for over a decade, but for most of that time, it dealt with only 30 complaints and took no discernible action on them.

Since Adriaenssens took over eight weeks ago, hundreds of men and boys had come forward and the panel received nearly 500 complaints. The group was due to make a report to the Belgian Church in October, but Adriaenssens said prosecutors launched the raid after he told them the flood of alleged victims had slowed.

The panel was also due to question 16 people who had previously complained to former Archbishop Danneels about sexual abuse by priests.