Belgian activist priest admits to child sexual abuse
An 85-year-old Belgian activist priest, who was being pushed for the Nobel Peace Prize, admitted recently that he sexually abused a child 40 years ago.
Francois Houtart, founder of the nonprofit organization Cetri, wrote in a letter to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that he touched “the intimate parts” of his then eight-year-old cousin, and called the incident “inconsiderate and irresponsible,” the AP said.
The case came to light amid moves by the World Social Forum to nominate Houtart for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against the impact of globalization on developing countries, the AP reported.
This prompted the victim’s sister to approach Cetri in October, its director Bernard Duterme told the AP. Houtart resigned from Centri’s board last month, The Daily Mail said.
The sister of the victim also spoke to the Adriaenssens commission, the Belgian church group that investigates child abuse cases. She said the abuse took place in 1970 when Houtart stayed at their home in Liege, The Daily Mail said.
Pope of anti-globalization
Houtart founded Cetri, an organization that publishes critical reports about the actions of developed nations in the Third World, in 1976. He was called the ‘pope of anti-globalization’ at the Catholic University of Brussels, where he taught from 1958 to 1990, The Daily Mail said.
In his letter to Le Soir, Houtart said that in 1970 he spent the night with relatives near Liege after attending a conference. “While walking through the bedroom of one of the boys in the family, I effectively touched his private parts twice. This woke him up and frightened him,” The Australian reported.
However, the sister of the victim called it “rape,” and in an email to Cetri, referred them to the church’s report of the incident which includes her testimony, Duterme told the AP.
The AP said that in the church report she testified that an unnamed priest went to her brother’s room twice “to rape him,” after which “my brother went to tell his parents, who kept him in their room.”
The church report said the victim’s father spoke to the priest about the episode after a few days. The priest refused their request for an apology and “told my father that there wasn’t anything more normal,” the AP reported.
Houtart, who is living in Quito, Ecuador, wrote in his letter that he was “personally perturbed, since I was conscious of the contradiction it represented with my Christian faith and my function as a priest,” according to the AP.
Rocked by scandal
The Catholic Church in Belgium has been rocked with sex abuse scandals this past year. In April, the Bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe resigned after admitting that he sexually abused a nephew for years as a priest and as a bishop, the AP said.
In June, the police raided and confiscated hundreds of files from a church, and forced open a crypt in St. Rumbold Cathedral in search of evidence of clergy sexual abuse. The Vatican condemned the act, and a Belgian court ruled that the move was excessive, the AP reported.
Last week Cardinal Godfried Danneels, former head of the Church in Belgium, said that in over 30 years he learned of seven incidents of clergy sexual abuse. This prompted some 475 complaints by victims of clergy sexual abuse, The Australian said.
For three years, Houtart attended the second Vatican from 1962. He was a pioneer of the first World Social Forum in 2001, a convention designed to study different strategies of running democracies, The Daily Mail said.
The Daily Mail said Houtart is the eldest of 14 children. His grandfather, Henry Carton de Wiart, was a pioneer of the Catholic Party and served as prime minister of Belgium from 1920 to 1921, The Daily Mail reported.