Home » Church Shelter Testifies before a critical investigative committee: “We put victims first”

Church Shelter Testifies before a critical investigative committee: “We put victims first”

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Mia De Schamphelaere, the coordinator of the communal shelter, emphasizes that the members of the church shelter are volunteers and work independently. The intention is that the victims are central and that they are given a place to tell their story, at their own pace, it is said.

Numbers

Since its start-up in 2011 until July 2023, 686 reports have been received. Of these, 535 came from victims themselves. The rest come from people close to the victims. Half of the victims who report themselves are between 40 and 60 years old and 35 percent are over 60 years old. In 70 percent of the cases, the victims were between 10 and 18 years old when the offenses occurred. Sixteen percent were younger than 10 years old.

Furthermore, 44 percent of the perpetrators have died when the report is received. Half of the complaints concerned sexual assault with violence and threats and in 22 percent of the cases there was rape or penetration. It also appears that many facts took place in parishes or schools and boarding schools.

Procedure

When a report is received, someone from the contact point of a diocese contacts the victim and asks if he or she would like a personal interview. “The victim is always welcome at my home. I try to create a safe context. We can also meet at the victim’s home or at a neutral place,” explains Mieke Meskens, the contact person for the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels. Information is then collected about the perpetrator. If he is still alive, the contact person will try to contact him and start a conversation. The file will also be passed on to the judicial authorities. “We ask the victim and the bishop to file civil proceedings so that they can view the file,” said Meskens.

The perpetrator is asked if he is willing to apologize, but he often does not respond. The bishop or another manager of the diocese will then apologize in an acknowledgment interview. In addition, victims can receive moral compensation in the form of a sum of money. For this purpose, the reception point uses the categories and amounts approved by the federal parliament in 2010 after the special committee. “That settlement does not imply a duty of silence,” De Schamphelaere emphasizes. “The victims are only allowed to disclose the names of the perpetrators who have not been convicted by the justice system.”

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In addition, the diocese imposes measures against a still living perpetrator. For example, that priest may no longer perform sacraments in the public sphere or preside over the Eucharist.

Results

In 30 percent of the reports, a conversation follows, the figures show, and in 15 to 20 percent a meeting follows with a person responsible from the diocese or a congregation. Mediation occurs in 18 percent.

Between 2011 and July 2023, 283 settlements were concluded. In 88 percent of the cases, the amount involved was between 2,500 and 25,000 euros. According to Rik Bloemen, the contact person for the Hasselt diocese, these amounts are on average higher than those awarded by the center for arbitration.

These figures therefore date from before the Canvas series ‘Godforgotten’ was broadcast. Since the broadcast, 154 contacts have been registered. Of this, 30 percent comes from French-speaking Belgium.

Many parliamentarians have questions about the independence of the reception point. Rita Passemiers, the former ombudsman of the city of Ghent and now point of contact for the diocese of Ghent, explains that she also asked herself that question before her appointment, but emphasizes that they can indeed work independently. She also points out the advantage of working within the Church, because they can use all the information from the Church.

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