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Belgian abuse victims file lawsuit against Holy See

Belgian lawyers Walter Van Steenbrugge and Christine Mussche arrive at a press conference in Ghent yesterday (CNS photo/Eric Vidal, Reuters)

More than five dozen victims of clergy sexual abuse have filed a class-action suit against the Catholic Church – including the Holy See – for failing to prevent the abuse.

The announcement by lawyers in Ghent came two days after Belgian bishops agreed to compensate victims of abuse even if the statute of limitations has run out.

Lawyer Walter van Steenbrugge said yesterday that Vatican officials and Belgian bishops would be called to testify in the proceedings.

Last year, after reports of abuse rocked the Belgian Church, an independent commission discovered sexual abuse in most Catholic dioceses and all Church-run boarding schools and religious orders.

The commission said that 475 cases of abuse had been reported to it between January and June. The cases included more than 300 cases that involved boys younger than 15 at the time the abuse occurred, sometimes decades ago. Two thirds of victims were male, the report said, while 13 had killed themselves and six more attempted suicide.

In one of the most prominent cases, Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe was forced to resign after admitting to years of abusing his nephew. In April he told Belgian television that he had molested another nephew and that it had all started “as a game”.