Cardinal Danneels, chairman of Belgian Bishops ConferenceBelgium’s bishops, just returned from a visit to Pope Benedict in Rome, issued a pastoral letter this week in which they asked pardon from all victims of clerical sexual abuse and promised to improve the way they exercised authority in the Church.

“We ask pardon from all victims of sexual abuse, both for the aggression and for the inadequate treatment of it,” the letter said. “We also ask pardon from victims’ families and from society for the human consequences caused by this abuse.”

The letter said the Church hierarchy had not realized the full impact of sexual abuse on children and its silence had put the Church’s reputation before concern for the victims’ dignity.

“The abusers got a second chance, while the victims carried in their flesh the injuries that cannot or can hardly heal,” it said. “We thank the victims who found the courage to break through this wall of silence by telling what happened to them.”

Doing things better would “require courage and humility, especially from bishops and other leaders of the Church community,” they said.

A Belgian bishop is among five (three Irish and one German) who have resigned recently because they mishandled cases of children abused by priests or abused children themselves sexually or physically.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet