Police in Belgium say they were just doing their job when they raided a Catholic church as part of its investigation into sexual abuse by priests. But Pope Benedict XVI called the raid "surprising and deplorable," and warned police to stay away.
In a statement put out by The Vatican on Sunday, the pontiff stressed the church's "autonomy" to conduct its own investigations and criticized the "deplorable methods" of the Belgian police, who detained bishops, confiscated files and even drilled into the tombs of at least one cardinal in a search for documents:
"On several occasions I have personally reiterated that such serious issues should be attended to by both civil and canon law, with respect for their reciprocal specificity and autonomy."
The raid on Thursday took place as bishops were holding their monthly meeting. Police detained them and their staff for nine hours. The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, called the detention of bishops “serious and unbelievable” and compared the police tactics to those of Communist regimes. He also said that the bishops had been deprived of food and water.
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However, the Belgian justice minister denied that claim, as did the spokesman for the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, who said that the raid had been conducted “correctly.”
Also during the raid, police confiscated the case files of a committee set up to investigate the abuse allegations. The committee director, church authorities and The Vatican have criticized police, saying they violated the privacy of the victims who had come forward.