VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has ordered a Belgian bishop who resigned last year after admitting he had sexually abused his nephew to no longer act as a priest in public and warned that he may risk further church sanctions.
The Vatican on Tuesday clarified the punishment against the former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe after Belgian bishops reported over the weekend that he had merely been sent outside Belgium for spiritual and psychological counseling, a seemingly cushy punishment given the seriousness of the crime.
The decision was the first known application of the Vatican’s new sex abuse norms approved last year giving the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith jurisdiction to investigate and punish bishops – not just priests – who abuse minors. The ultimate possible penalty: defrocking, or laicization in church-speak.
Previously, when bishops committed canonical crimes the pope dealt with them by delegating the cases to various Vatican offices or the Roman Rota, a Vatican court.
The Vatican has long been accused by sex abuse victims of having let off the hook those bishops who themselves molested minors or helped cover up the crimes of priests who did. The change in the norms was designed at least in theory to let the Congregation more easily go after abusive bishops and cardinals.
The pope has the final say on Vangheluwe’s punishment.
In a statement issued after queries by the Associated Press, the Vatican’s press office said Pope Benedict XVI would eventually decide on a sentence based on Vangheluwe’s diagnosis and prognosis from the psychological treatment he is receiving in exile, and also take into account “the suffering of the victims and the need for justice.”
It said that while Vangheluwe is being treated, he isn’t allowed to work publicly as a priest or bishop.