Vatican Sanctions Nobel Laureate After Accusations Against Timor | national news


VATICAN CITY (AP) — The decades-long Catholic Church sex abuse scandal caught up with a Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Thursday, with the Vatican confirming it had sanctioned Timor’s independence hero oriental, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, following allegations that he sexually abused boys there in the 1990s.

The admission to the Vatican came a day after a Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, revealed the allegations against the revered Catholic bishop, naming two of Belo’s alleged victims and reporting that there were others who did not. had not manifested themselves in East Timor, where the church exercises enormous influence.

Spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Vatican’s office for sexual abuse cases received allegations “regarding the behavior of the bishop” in 2019 and imposed the restrictions within a year. They included restrictions on Belo’s movements and his exercise of the ministry, and prohibited him from having voluntary contact with minors or contact with East Timor.

In a statement, Bruni said the sanctions were “modified and strengthened” in November 2021 and that Belo had formally accepted the sanction each time.

The Vatican, however, has offered no explanation as to why St. John Paul II allowed Belo to step down as head of the East Timor church two decades in early 2002, and why church authorities enabled him to be sent to Mozambique, where he worked with children. .

News of Belo’s behavior sent shockwaves through the heavily Catholic and impoverished Southeast Asian nation, where he is considered a hero for fighting for East Timor’s independence from live under Indonesian rule.

“We are here too in shock to hear this news,” an official from the Archdiocese of Dili in East Timor said Thursday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Others said they would support Belo for his contributions to the country and his fight for independence.

“We accept and submit to any decision rendered by the Vatican on the allegation against Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, whether good or bad,” said Gregoriu Saldanha, who chairs the November 12 Committee, a youth organization created after a massacre in Santa Cruz. during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

He told a press conference in Dili that “we will stand by Bishop Belo, because we realize that as a human being, Belo has weaknesses or mistakes like others. wrong, it’s his individual fault, nothing to do with religion.

He added, “We cannot ignore his kindness and what he fought for the people of East Timor. Belo is part of our struggle for independence. As a leader of the Catholic Church, he gave his support and solidarity to the struggle of the people.

De Groene Amsterdammer said two alleged victims, identified only as Paulo and Roberto, said they were abused by Belo and said other boys were also victimized. He said his investigation showed that Belo’s abuses were known to the East Timorese government and to humanitarian and religious workers.

“The bishop raped and sexually abused me that night,” Roberto allegedly told the magazine. “Early in the morning, he sent me away. I was scared because it was still dark. So I had to wait before I could go home. He also left me some money. It was to keep my mouth shut. And to be sure that I would come back.

Belo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 along with fellow East Timorese independence icon Jose Ramos-Horta for campaigning for a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in their home country as he was fighting for independence from Indonesia, a former Dutch colony.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in its citation, praised Belo’s courage in refusing to be intimidated by Indonesian forces. The committee noted that in trying to get the United Nations to hold a plebiscite for East Timor, it smuggled out two witnesses to a bloody 1991 massacre so they could testify before the human rights commission. United Nations man in Geneva.

The Nobel committee declined to respond to the allegations, except to say it does not generally comment on past winners. In a recent exception, the committee reprimanded its 2019 winner, the Ethiopian prime minister, for the war and humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region.

Ramos-Horta became president of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony. Upon his return Thursday from the United States, where he addressed the UN General Assembly, Ramos-Horta was questioned about the allegations against Belo and sent back to the Vatican. “I prefer to wait for further measures from the Holy See,” he said.

The United Nations called the allegations “truly shocking” and said they needed to be “thoroughly investigated”, according to a statement from UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Belo, believed to be living in Portugal, did not respond when reached by telephone by Radio Renascença, the Portuguese church’s private broadcaster.

Belo is a priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Roman Catholic religious order that has long had influence in the Vatican. The Portuguese branch of the Salesians said on Thursday that they learned “with great sadness and astonishment” of the news.

The branch has distanced itself from Belo, saying he has not been linked to the order since taking office in East Timor. However, Belo is still a Salesian bishop, listed in the Vatican directory by his Salesian initials “SDB” at the end of his name.

“Regarding the issues covered in the news, we have no knowledge that would allow us to comment,” the Salesian statement read.

He said the Portuguese Salesians took in Belo at the request of their superiors after he left East Timor in 2002 and because he was well liked, but said he had not done any pastoral work in Portugal.

The Dutch magazine said its research indicated Belo also abused boys in the 1980s before he became a bishop when he worked at a Salesian-run educational center.

Paulo, now 42, told the Dutch magazine that he was once assaulted by Belo at the episcopal residence in Dili, the capital of East Timor. He asked to remain anonymous “for the privacy and safety of himself and his family,” the magazine said.

“I thought: this is disgusting. I won’t go there again,” he told the magazine.

Roberto, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he was abused more often, starting around the age of 14 after a religious celebration in his hometown. Roberto then moved to Dili, where the alleged abuse continued at the bishop’s residence, the Dutch magazine reported.

It is unclear if or when any alleged victims ever come forward to local church, law enforcement or Vatican authorities.

Saint John Paul II accepted Belo’s resignation as Apostolic Administrator of Dili on November 26, 2002, when he was 54 years old. The Vatican’s announcement at the time cited canon law that allows bishops under the age of 75 to retire for health or other “serious” reasons that render them unable to continue.

In 2005, Belo told UCANews, a Catholic news agency, that he quit because of stress and poor health. Belo had no further episcopal career after that, and Groene Amsterdammer said he moved to Mozambique and worked there as a priest.

Belo told UCANews he moved to Mozambique after consulting with the head of the Vatican’s missionary office, Cardinal Cresenzio Sepe, and agreed to work there for a year and expected to return to East Timor.

“I do pastoral work teaching catechism to children, giving retreats to young people. I have come down from the top down,” UCANews quoted Belo as saying.

Efforts to reach Sepe, who is now retired, were unsuccessful.

In 2002, when Belo retired as head of the church in East Timor, the sex abuse scandal had just exploded publicly in the United States and the Vatican had just begun cracking down on abusive priests, demanding that all cases of abuse are sent to the Vatican for review.

Bishops, however, were exempt from this requirement. It wasn’t until 2019 that Pope Francis passed a church law requiring all sexual misconduct against bishops to be reported internally and providing a mechanism to investigate allegations, suggesting the new law has prompted the Vatican to take action in the case of Belo.

It is possible that Belo’s sexual activity with teenagers was rejected by the Vatican in the early 2000s if it involved 16 or 17 year olds, since the Vatican at that time considered such activity sinful but consensual . It wasn’t until 2010 that the Vatican raised the age of consent to 18.

Belo is not the only religious leader in East Timor accused of abuse. A defrocked American priest, Richard Daschbach, was convicted last year in a Dili court of sexually abusing young orphaned and disadvantaged girls in his care and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, the first such case. gender in the country.

Meilana reported from Dili, East Timor. Alves reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Mike Corder in Amsterdam and Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed.


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