VATICAN CITY – A Belgian bishop forced to retire after admitting to years of sexual abuse of his nephew told Belgian television that he had molested another nephew and that it had all started “as a game.”
Former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, 74, said he did not consider himself a pedophile, according to news reports on the interview, which was broadcast April 14.
Belgium’s bishops said they were “astounded” and “extremely shocked” by Bishop Vangheluwe’s televised interview.
What was most shocking was the way in which the bishop “made light of and justified the crimes committed, and the effects on the victims, their families and – more in general – all of society. This is unacceptable,” they said in a statement reported on Vatican Radio April 15.
The bishop “still doesn’t seem to grasp the extreme seriousness of his actions,” they said.
What was said during the interview “is extremely offensive for the victims, their families and for everyone who must confront the problem of sexual abuse. Even for the faithful it’s a slap in the face,” the bishops’ statement said.
On April 11, the bishops’ conference said Bishop Vangheluwe had been ordered by Vatican authorities to leave Belgium to undergo “spiritual and psychological treatment.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said April 12 that “obviously” the bishop would be suspended from public ministry while further investigation was under way.
Additional measures may be taken against the bishop, who admitted last year that he had abused his nephew for 13 years, beginning when the child was 5 years old.
The abuse of the second nephew, which the bishop said lasted less than a year, had not been previously disclosed to the public.
Bishop Vangheluwe said in the interview that his behavior “had nothing to do with sexuality,” according to the news reports from Belgium. “I don’t have the impression at all that I am a pedophile. It was really just a small relationship. I did not have the feeling that my nephew was against it, quite the contrary,” he said.
He said the abuse had stopped 25 years ago and that “it was never a question of rape, there was never physical violence used. He never saw me naked and there was no penetration.”
“It began as a game with the boys” in cramped quarters during family gatherings, he said.
He first confessed to abuse in April 2010 after the nephew’s family accused him publicly. He had served as the bishop of Bruges for 40 years.
The interview with the Belgian station VT4 took place in a secret location in France. The bishop has been in hiding since his public admission and his current whereabouts have not been disclosed.
Belgian authorities have said that he cannot be prosecuted in Belgium because the statute of limitations on the crime has run out.