Church in Belgium opts for transparency

The Catholic Church in Belgium is taking new strides to regain its credibility, according to a report in The New York Times, and that effort begins with greater transparency and cooperation with a government commission.

Increasingly, it appears, the way to credibility is being paved by churches in largely Catholic countries, such as Ireland and Belgium, where leaders have wearied of hiding the facts and placing blame elsewhere and are now willing to divulge the breadth and depth of the offenses that occurred.

According to the Times story, "Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels said at the news conference that day that the church in Belgium would 'turn over a leaf from a not-very-distant past when such matters would pass in silence or be concealed.'”

The new head of a commission investigating the scandal said the archbishop's comments "had a significant effect." "Suddenly, on television, they heard their boss, the archbishop, say, ‘I will not cover anymore,’ Mr. Adriaenssens said. In these first cases I’m impressed by the fact that a large majority, nearly all these priests, largely are cooperative because they realize the pressure of public opinion, the pressure of the bishops.'”

Unknown, of course, is whether the church leaders will sustain their professed transparency or what Rome will do with the report of a commission that has full access to the documentation regarding abuse in the church across the country.

But if Ireland and Belgium are any indication, some episcopal conferences in Europe, through public pressure and the growing global nature of the scandal, have been forced to a new level of realization that regaining credibility is a painful process involving an unusual degree of hoesty and disclosure. Leaders elsewhere have taken a direction decidedly different from that taken in the United States, where the hierarchy continues to fight release of documents that tell the full story and where we still hear that cultural forces and anti-Catholicism are to blame for the church's failures.

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