April 29, 2011 / 12:29 PM / 8 years ago

Belgian lawyer seeks damages from Vatican for abuse

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian lawyer representing people who say they were abused by Catholic clergy is seeking damages from the Vatican, saying it failed to act against predator priests.

“They were aware of a lot of cases of sexual abuse and they have not done anything,” Walter Van Steenbrugge, who represents around 70 Belgians, told Reuters.

A year ago, the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting to molesting a nephew, sparking a wave of revelations about abuse in Belgium.

In Belgium at least 13 victims have been driven to suicide, a commission found last year.

Van Steenbrugge plans to mount a class action case in Brussels against a number of Belgians as well as the Vatican.

The lawyer said the Vatican had set a bad example in its reaction to claims of abuse and that its attitude had contributed to the damage.

The case follows a similar action by lawyers in the United States.

The Vatican has said it cannot be held responsible in the same way as a business, whose executives can be held ultimately responsible for the action of subordinates, because Catholic dioceses around the world have their own legal status as employers.

Van Steenbrugge said he would review the planned action if the church agreed to pay damages to victims, as it was asked to do last month by a parliamentary commission.

(Reporting by Ben Deighton; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)

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