Vatican says it restricted East Timor archbishop after abuse allegations

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DILI, East Timor (CNS) – After a Dutch newspaper published an investigation into allegations of abuse against retired Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Dili, the Vatican said it was aware of the allegations several years ago and had imposed restrictions on it.

The De Groene Amsterdammer newspaper said it began its investigation in 2002. It used the first-person stories of two young men, then aged 14 and 16, who graphically detailed their interactions with Bishop Belo, claiming that he had given them money after certain physical encounters. .

“He knows the boys don’t have any money. So when he invited you, you came and (he) gave you some money,” said one of the alleged victims. “But in the meantime, you are a victim. That’s how he did it.

“Based on research conducted by De Groene, it appears that Belo had more casualties,” the story reads. “De Groene spoke to 20 people familiar with the case: dignitaries, government officials, politicians, NGO workers, church members and professionals. More than half know a victim personally, while others are aware of the case and most have discussed it at work. De Groene also spoke with other victims who did not want to tell their story in the media. »

In the Vatican, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters on September 29 that “the Congregation for the Doctrine of (the) Faith was first involved in this matter in 2019, and in light accusations she received regarding the bishop’s behavior, in September 2020 the congregation imposed certain disciplinary restrictions on her.The restrictions included restrictions on her movements and the exercise of her ministry, the prohibition of voluntary contacts with minors, interviews and contacts with Timor Leste.

“In November 2021, these measures were modified and reinforced. In both cases, the measures were formally accepted by the bishop.

Bishop Belo, now 74, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his nonviolent resistance to the Indonesian occupation of his homeland for 24 years; he shared the prize with the current president of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta.

Bishop Belo left East Timor in 2002, saying he was suffering from “physical and mental fatigue”. He retired to missionary life in another former Portuguese colony, Mozambique, before finally settling in Portugal.

The Bishop was ordained a Salesian priest and stayed with Salesians in Portugal. On September 29, the Salesians in Portugal issued a statement saying they were sad and perplexed to hear the allegations against the bishop, who “has had no educational or pastoral responsibility in the service of our congregation” since his arrival .

“His request for hospitality was accepted by us as a matter of course because he is a person known and esteemed by all,” the Salesians said.

“We have no knowledge of the content of the news to make any statements,” they added.

Bishop Norberto do Amaral, president of the East Timor bishops’ conference, said the bishops will respect and cooperate with any legal proceedings that emerge as a result of the allegations.

Portuguese news agency LUSA said the bishop noted that in October 2021 the conference approved “guidelines on the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

He said the doctrinal congregation confirmed the guidelines in December. He said that the episcopal conference continues to monitor all cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, but that “the competence to initiate the process (of the church) is reserved for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.

East Timor is already struggling to come to terms with the case of former US cleric Richard Daschbach, 85, who abused dozens of young people and vulnerable adults at an orphanage he ran in a remote part of the tiny nation Asian. A member of the Society of the Divine Word, he was expelled from the priesthood after an investigation by Rome in 2018 and imprisoned after a criminal trial in 2021.

“As a Catholic country, with over 90% membership, the church wields enormous social, political and spiritual power, and priests are revered as God on earth. Daschbach was treated as a ‘demi-god’ with ‘magical abilities’ and a direct line to Christ,” Sara Niner, a professor at Australia’s Monash University, wrote in 2021.

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