UN, abuse survivors demand Vatican probe into Bello

The United Nations and advocacy groups for survivors of clergy sexual abuse are urging Pope Francis to authorize a full investigation of Catholic Church archives on three continents to find out what Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximénes was. Who and when knows about the sexual abuse by Bello. Honored independence hero of East Timor.

The Vatican’s sexual abuse office said last week that it had secretly banned Belo in 2020 based on allegations of misconduct in Rome in 2019 that forbade him from having contact with minors or East Timor .

It was the same year that Francis approved a new church law that required all cases of hounds to be reported in-house and established a mechanism to investigate bishops, during the church’s decades-long scandal. Were escaping accountability for misconduct or cover-up.

But a brief Vatican statement released after Dutch magazine De Groen Amsterdam uncovered the Belo scandal, citing two of its alleged victims, did not say what church officials would know before 2019.

Belo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 along with fellow East Timorese independence icon Jose Ramos-Horta for campaigning for a fair and peaceful solution to the conflict in his country as it struggled to gain independence from Indonesia.

He is revered in East Timor and was celebrated abroad for his bravery in preventing human rights abuses by Indonesian rulers despite threats to his life.

But in 2002, six years after winning the award, Belo abruptly retired as head of the church in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony. At 54, he was two decades away from the normal retirement age for bishops, and never appointed a bishop after that.

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He has said that he has retired due to health reasons and due to stress and to give separate church leadership to the newly independent East Timor. But within a year of his retirement, Belo was sent by the Vatican and their Salesian missionary order to another former Portuguese colony, Mozambique, to work as a missionary priest. There, he has said, he spent his time “teaching discourses to children, seclusion to young people”. He is currently in Portugal, where the Salesians have said that they took him away at the request of their superiors. His whereabouts are unclear, and he did not respond when contacted by Portuguese media.

Advocates for the survivors cite the in-house investigation that Francis authorized and published by US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in calling for a forensic study similar to that of the church archives for Bello in 2020.

The McCarrick investigation, which began in 2018 after new allegations emerged of McCarrick sexually abusing a teenage altar boy, uncovered how bishops, cardinals and even A series of popes rejected or dismissed reports that he slept with his seminary and let them rise. through the church hierarchy.

There is no indication yet that Francis is ready to authorize a similar investigation into Bello.

The outrage within East Timor’s Catholic community appears to have no basis, as among American Catholics over McCarrick. In contrast, in a poor, highly Catholic country, where the Church has a strong influence, many stood behind Bello despite the accusations.

Francis met on Saturday with his ambassador to Portugal as well as the head of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, who is reportedly accused of covering up for other misbehaving clergy.

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Anne Barrett-Doyle of the online resource Bishop’s Accountability called on Francis to order a “full and comprehensive investigation into the Belo case, involving church officials from all ranks and decasters and from every relevant region, from East Timor to Portugal.” from Rome to Mozambique.” She noted that Belo’s Salesian superiors, as well as Vatican officials, even to Pope John Paul II and, in his 2002 retirement and his Will be involved in subsequent transfers.

East Timor is and was then under the jurisdiction of the powerful Vatican Congregation for the Preaching of the People, which handles all church affairs in mission areas in Africa, Asia and some other regions. But ultimately a pope decides when bishops will retire and whether they are subject to any restrictions.

“The Vatican’s suggestion that it has learned for the first time about the allegations over the years does not pass the smell test. That is completely improbable,” Barrett-Doyle said in an email. “Hints toward a real possibility. indicate that Belo is another McCarrick – an acclaimed churchman whose prophecy was known to many church officials.” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also supported the full investigation.

“These allegations are really shocking and need a thorough investigation,” he told the Associated Press. The United Nations organized a referendum on the independence of East Timor in 1999 and then provided UN peacekeeping forces to prevent widespread violence until independence was declared in 2002.

The main US-based advocacy group for survivors of priestly sexual abuse, SNAP, joined the call for a more thorough investigation, particularly given that Bello was allowed to continue serving children while in Mozambique.

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“We learn from the many allegations of sexual abuse against children that there are often more victims. In this tragedy, the Vatican freed Bello to have access to potentially more victims,” said SNAP communications manager, Mike McDonnell. .