By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY (RNS) A Belgian court ruled on Thursday (Sept. 9) that recent raids by police investigators on Roman Catholic Church offices were illegal, rendering the documents they obtained inadmissible in judicial proceedings.
Among the disqualified evidence is testimony that sexual abuse by clergy may have led to at least 13 suicides.
On June 24, police seized documents, computers and cell phones from the home of Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard outside Brussels. Bishops attending a conference were detained for nine hours, and the tomb of a deceased archbishop was opened and searched.
More sensitive files were impounded at a second target, the headquarters of a panel set up in 1998 to investigate pedophilia within the church. According to the Associated Press, those files included a report that abuse may have led at least 13 victims to kill themselves.
Pope Benedict XVI called the raids "surprising and deplorable," and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone described them as unprecedented "even under Communist regimes." The church-backed investigating panel resigned en masse in protest.
The raids were sparked by accusations of hidden documents made by the commission's former chairwoman.
The number of abuse complaints in Belgium had risen to nearly 500 following the April resignation of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges. Vangheluwe confessed to having sexually abused a boy who later turned out to be his nephew.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for a leading victims' network deplored the court's ruling.
"Catholics, in Belgium and across the world, should be outraged that their generous donations are funding church defense lawyers who maneuver to hide evidence of horrific crimes against children," said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.