Belgian bishop declines cardinal’s honor for abuse record

ROME — One of the new cardinals proposed by Pope Francis, the retired bishop of Ghent, Belgium, has given up accepting the honor for his insufficient response to cases of clergy sex abuse, the Belgian bishops’ conference has said. .

The Bishop of Ghent, Luc Van Looy, had asked Francis for permission to refuse the honor in order to “no further harm the victims,” and Francis accepted the request, the bishops said in a statement.

Francis had named Van Looy as one of 21 prelates to become a new “prince of the church” during a consistory on August 27. At 80, Van Looy is too old to attend a future conclave to decide the next pope, but he was one of five men appointed cardinals in recognition of their life of service to the church.

Van Looy, a priest of the Salesian religious order, had been bishop of the diocese of northwestern Belgium from 2004 to 2020.

The Belgian bishops’ conference said the announcement of his appointment as cardinal had “generated a lot of positive reactions but also criticism that he did not always react with enough energy as bishop of Ghent against abuses in its pastoral work”.

The conference said it appreciated Van Looy’s decision to decline the honor and reiterated his commitment to fighting abuse in the church and putting the interests of victims first.

The Belgian Catholic Church has had a miserable record of abuse and cover-up: in 2010, the Belgian Church acknowledged more than 500 cases of abuse dating back to the 1950s after commissioning a report which revealed that at least 13 victims committed suicide.

That same year, the church offices were raided by police and the Archbishop of Bruges resigned after admitting he had sexually abused his nephew for years while he was a priest and bishop. The Bruges scandal also tarnished the then Belgian church leader, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who was recorded urging the bishop’s victim to shut up.

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