The Salesians of Belgium have pointed a finger at the country’s courts after a convicted pedophile priest was allowed to work with children in Africa.

Driving the news

“You can say the Salesians shouldn’t have let him go to Africa, but we trusted the advice given by the probation commission, which should also have seen it was too risky”, Belgian provincial vicar and Salesian spokesman Father Carlo Loots told CNS November 26.

Loots was speaking after a CNN investigation found Salesian Father Luk Delft has been accused of molesting at least two boys in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The Salesian representative did add, however, that “I don’t think it helps much to start blaming people” for the scandal over the pedophile priest.

He did admit a Belgian probation commission had “no idea about the situation in the CAR”, one of Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, when it approved Delft’s relocation there.

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In 2013, Delft was invited by Belgian Salesian bishop Albert Vanbuel to work at a CAR camp for internal refugees run by Church aid organisation Caritas.

That was despite Delft having been convicted by a Ghent court in 2012 of child abuse and possession of child pornography, and having been sentenced to a suspended 18-month jail term and a 10-year ban on being with children.

In 2015, after Vanbuel retired, Delft became the national director of Caritas in the CAR, and continued to have contact with minors.

Why it matters

Salesian spokesman Loots admitted that Bishop Vanbuel had “clearly no idea how a pedophile really functions”, despite having been informed of Delft’s past and agreeing to supervise the abuser priest.

“Bishops and religious orders always face a big problem knowing what to do with abusers of young people — there’s no death penalty for this, so we can’t kill them, but nor can we send them to a desert island”, Loots explained.

“Instead, we have to look for a solution, and the philosophy is that such people deserve a new chance — but not in the same context or situation as previously”.

As for what the Salesian order will take away from the Delft scandal, Loots explained that “we’ve learned that all communications involving [abuse] cases must be written and documented, rather than exchanged verbally at the risk of being passed over and forgotten”.

“We’ve also improved our safeguarding policy and learned to be much more prudent in dealing with an abuser.

“We thought at the time we’d taken the right decisions, but we must recognize doing our best at that moment wasn’t enough”.

Loots confirmed that Delft is now living under supervision and receiving treatment in Belgium, at the Salesian house in Boortmeerbeek, where there are, he stressed, “no activities involving young people”.

For the record

In a statement November 21, Caritas said it was “saddened and outraged” at the accusations against Delft in the CAR, and expressed its “compassion and solidarity” with the priest’s alleged victims and their families.

The international branch of the Church aid organisation said it was assisting the local Caritas in the CAR as it investigates the abuse claims and strengthens its safeguarding mechanisms.

Spokesman for the Belgian bishops’ conference Tommy Scholtes said the conference “immediately alerted” Belgian prosecutors when it had knowledge of the accusations against Delft, in June.

Scholtes added that Delft’s future is in the hands of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles accusations against pedophile priests.

“Things are complicated since Luk Delft is here, and his possible victims are there”, Scholtes admitted.

“But we trust the competence of the judicial authorities in Belgium and the CAR. Although I think everyone did their best, we must conclude this wasn’t enough”.

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