On Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 in a Belgian newspaper an article about sexual abuse was published. It described a particular problem in the handling of a complaint in the Belgian context. The victim is not satisfied with the compensation granted to him.
His complaint relates to facts covered by prescription.
The resignation of the Bishop of Bruges in 2010 was a turning point in Belgium on this matter. After his resignation, there was quite a commotion around sexual abuse within the church.
Many victims brought their own stories of abuse in the past in public.
Most of the victims were for years psychologically scarred and only now found the courage to tell their stories and to file a complaint. There was a lot of outrage. The people was shocked by the seriousness of ‘hidden suffering’. But the outrage was also related to the fact that the perpetrators and the churches were able to escape of their responsibility, given there was the prescription. Therefore, there was a special initiative from the Belgian Parliament. The church was called for her « moral responsibility ». In consultation and in cooperation with the Belgian bishops a structure was set up, namely the « Arbitration for complaints of barred offenses of sexual abuse by clerics”.
This undertaking was legally delicate, because it may not be against the national and European criminal laws. These laws protect for instance each accused person.
There were amongst others these two key principles.
First: In acknowledgment of the complaint, an agreement (a settlement) is made by ‘the Arbitration commission’ between the victim and the foundation ‘Dignity’.
This foundation ‘Dignity’ was set up specially for this by the ecclesiastical authorities. The offender’s name is not mentioned in the agreement. It is a commitment of the church as an institution in respect of the victim. In many cases, the offender is already deceased.
The settlement is furthermore stated that the victim does not do any communication from which the identity of the perpetrator can be deduced.
After all, one can not designate any person as a perpetrator when it is legally no longer possible. That can certainly not when the accused is dead.
Article 5 of the Agreement states: “As the facts set out in paragraph 2 (of the agreement) are time-barred and the limitation in criminal matters are of public policy, there can not be disclosed anything in public that would make it possible to identify the perpetrator of these offenses.”
A second principle is that the arbitration commission may grant an amount of money. This amount is similar to the amount that one would get by Justice if the case was not barred. Parliament wanted to avoid that the amount there would be awarded higher.
The agreement marks a definitive end to the case
In this sense, the newspaper article of 15 March is particular. The victim has previously received a compensation twice from the perpetrator priest himself. These are about 15.000 euros. The victim, however, has experienced this as « hush money. »
Therefore he have submitted three years ago his complaint to the Arbitration commission. He received as a recognition an amount of 5.000 euros. This agreement was to be the definitive end of te case because by signing the agreement signed, the victim agrees not to take further steps.
After three years, the victim does no longer agree. He voices this publicly through the media.The priest in question may now possibly claim damages for the violation of the agreement.
Fr. Patrick Degrieck
CCP Diploma Student