BRUSSELS — The government said Thursday that an investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church can continue even though a June raid on the archdiocese has been ruled illegal.
Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard welcomed the appeals court ruling calling the raids improper but said he continues to support any judicial inquiry into sex abuse by clergy that respects the legal rules.
During the June 24 raid, code-named Operation Chalice, authorities seized hundreds of case files from a church and used power tools to open a prelate's crypt in Mechlin's St. Rumbold Cathedral seeking evidence. The court considered the raids excessive.
The former head of Belgium's Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, acknowledged Wednesday that damage often control took precedence of the concern for the victim in sexual abuse cases involving clergy.
Leonard succeeded Danneels this year and is set to announce a new initiative Monday on how to deal with the abuse and let victims seek closure. At the same time he said the judicial authorities could continue their work.
"The Church welcomes and fully supports the judicial investigation and prosecution of child abusers. Such investigations should however always be focused and carried out in a correct legal manner," his office said in a statement.
Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck told VRT network that Thursday's ruling on the raids "was a signal to say, 'yes, continue, but in a correct way.' It was not a signal to say 'stop the whole inquiry'."
The June raids provoked fierce reaction from the Vatican but little public outcry in a country where abuse charges have implicated senior church officials.
The Belgian church has been going through one of its worst crises since April, when Bruges bishop Roger Vangheluwe resigned, admitting to having sexually abused a nephew for years when he was a priest and bishop.
The crisis was exacerbated when secret tapes were published last month of Danneels suggesting a coverup to the victim until Vangheluwe retired in 2011.
Danneels said Wednesday's he should have asked Vangheluwe to resign immediately.
The scandal has had a huge impact on the Belgian church and has highlighted the issue of sex abuse, which has undermined the credibility of the church in many Western nations. Revelations of rape or other sexual abuse of minors by priests, and of coverups by bishops, have been piling up for months.