Europe

Belgian church abuse raids ruled illegal

A police officer outside the Archdiocese of Mechelen on 24 June 2010
Image caption Prosecutors said the raids were over alleged clerical abuse of minors

A Belgian court has ruled that recent raids by police investigating alleged child sex abuse by Catholic priests were illegal.

The appeals court also said the documents seized in June's raids on several buildings of Belgium's Catholic Church cannot be used by prosecutors.

The ruling could throw the long-running investigation into doubt.

Belgium is one of several countries in which a stream of abuse claims have shaken the Church.

In April, the Church was shaken when the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned and admitted to having sexually abused a boy before and after becoming a bishop.

The inquiry into child sex abuse has been running for several years, but prosecutors are yet to bring any charges.

Archbishop's reaction

On Thursday, the appeals court in Brussels said the raids on the Church headquarters north of the capital and at the home of the former Archbishop of Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, were disproportionate.

The court also ordered that all the seized documents - including nearly 500 files and a computer from the offices of a Church commission investigating allegations of sex abuse - must be returned.

The current Archbishop of Belgium, Cardinal Andre-Joseph Leonard, said after the ruling that it was "in everyone's interests that the fundamental rules of law are respected", the AFP news agency reports.

He stressed that he was "in no way opposed to a correctly-run judicial investigation" had that he was "satisfied that clarity has finally been shone on this affair".

The Church commission resigned en masse soon after the raids, and Pope Benedict XVI has denounced the raids as "deplorable".

But Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck has said that normal procedures were followed.

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