Bishop Lucas Van Looy rejects cardinal honor from Pope Francis due to abuse

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An earlier version of this story said that the diocese of Ghent did not intervene to stop the activities of an accused priest in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Ghent. Bishop-Accountability says Bishop Lucas Van Looy notified civilian authorities in 2014.

When Pope Francis announced in May his intention to create 21 new cardinals, one name stood out for a group of clerical assassins in Belgium: Lucas Van Looy. After facing several weeks of pressure over his overview of the handling of abuse cases, the future cardinal has now asked Frans not to receive the honor – a very unusual request that the pope accepted.

The Belgian Bishops’ Conference said Van Looy’s request was made to “prevent the victims of such abuses from being injured again”.

For a church that has been hit hard by years of abuse scandals, the episode showed the far-reaching consequences that can come after a church leader is linked to the mishandling of cases. It also raises questions about the Vatican’s process of examining the records of individuals chosen by Francis to become cardinals – a position that implies a lifetime of good service to the church.

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“Everyone in Belgium knew about it,” said Lieve Halsberghe, a spokesman for victims of clerical abuse in the country. She stressed that Van Looy’s request “did not come from his conscience. It came because there were protests from a human rights group. “

The Vatican issued a separate statement on the matter, and a spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The Belgian Bishops ‘Conference said Francis’ first decision to appoint Van Looy as cardinal had provoked “a lot of positive reactions”. But there was also criticism, the conference said, “of the fact that he did not always react energetically enough” against “abuse in the pastoral relationship” while serving as bishop of Ghent from 2003 to 2019.

Van Looy had been one of 21 people Francis chose for the honor, a move that will be formalized – for the other 20 – during a consistory in August. Even if Van Looy had become a cardinal, he would not have been able to attend any future conclave because of his age, 80. (Only cardinals younger than 80 can help choose the next pope.)

The Belgian bishop’s conference did not provide details on any allegations of misconduct by Van Looy.

However, his name has appeared in several previous news accounts. He is listed on the website, a settlement office for information on clerical abuse, on a page dedicated to bishops who have abused cases. The website mentions a Belgian predator priest accused of abusing both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghent.

Van Looy did not lead the diocese of Ghent when the charges first surfaced, but after becoming bishop, the diocese sent a Congolese victim $ 25,000 in 2005. However, he did not go in to notify civilian authorities of the priest’s ongoing activities – working in a non-profit organization to help orphans from the genocide in Rwanda – until 2014, Bishop-Accountability said in a statement on Friday.

Although Van Looy has personally spoken out about the atrocities of abuse, and described the victims’ “inhuman suffering”, he has also admitted not to notify the judicial authorities of six letters he had received regarding cases, according to a Belgian media account from 2010. Van Looy called these letters “less urgent” because the accusations concerned retired priests.

Van Looy is part of the religious order Salesians of Don Bosco. Belgium’s sellers were involved in a scandal as a result of a 2019 CNN investigation by a Belgian priest, convicted of assault in a court in Ghent, which was then sent to the Central African Republic, where he was charged with assault again.

Belgium has faced a tsunami of damaging abuse-related revelations, many of which bubbled to the surface in 2010, in what leaders described as one of the most difficult crises in the history of Belgium’s Catholic Church. A report released in 2010 described hundreds of cases over five decades, noting that 13 victims had been forced to take their own lives in the wake of the trauma.