One would think that the recent report about sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church in Belgium was horrific enough that it did not need any embellishment. But that’s not how Christopher Hitchens thinks. In his most recent column, a call for “simple earthly justice” in cases of clerical sexual abuse, Hitchens claims that “[a] subseqent official report, commissioned by the country’s secular authorities” established that there was in essence a systematic coverup by the Belgian hierarchy, applauds a raid by the Belgian police “in search of evidence that was being concealed,” and heaps scorn on the Pope for protesting that raid.
All of these statements are either untrue or misleading. The commission that detailed the appalling level of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Belgium (mostly occurring in the 1960s and 1970s) was established by the Church, not by “the country’s secular authorities.” According to a September 10 BBC report, the commission “had found no indication that the Church had systematically sought to cover up cases,” though the commission’s chairman, Peter Adriaenssens, did say the commission’s findings represented a “body blow” to the Belgian Church. Hitchens also fails to mention that the search by the Belgian police, which included searching the tomb of a Cardinal and seizing the files of the Adriaenssens commission, was subsequently deemed illegal by the Belgian courts, and that the Church protested the raid because many of victims giving information to the commission had asked that their identity be protected.
Hitchens’ column is the latest salvo in his campaign to have criminal penalties imposed on Benedict XVI. It is also the latest reminder that Hitchens’ appeal for “simple earthly justice” in the matter of clerical sexual abuse is made without regard for the actual laws governing those cases or indeed for the simple justice represented by honesty.