Belgian Church begins 20-year journey to restore credibility

It could take 20 years for the Belgian Church to regain its credibility, according to Auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols of Mechelen-Brussels, who says the president of Belgium’s bishops’ conference wants Catholics to respect a court judgment against him for failing to act on abuse allegations.

Liege’s Appeal Court ruled that Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels did not take sufficient measures to deal with an abusive priest when Bishop of Namur in 1996. It ordered him to pay 10,000 euros to a former seminarian, Joel Devillet, who was 14 when Fr Gilbert Hubermont first began to abuse him. A previous claim by Mr Devillet was rejected by a Namur court in 2013.

Explaining that he believed the Belgian Church’s procedures for tackling abuse were now robust, and that a special commission to investigate historical abuse cases would shortly complete its work, Dr Kockerols said while it would take time for the Belgian Church to regain credibility, “What’s important in the meantime is that we’re not intimidated into silence.

“When you’re walking a tightrope, your best chance of finding a balance is to keep moving forward,” he said.