Who are the Belgians?

By Peter Berger | 13 July 2010

On June 27, 2010, Belgian police raided the offices of the Roman Catholic  Bishops’ Conference in Brussels while a meeting of that organization was going on. The police was looking for evidence of cover-ups of crimes of child abuse by members of the clergy. While a search of the premises was undertaken, a group of bishops was detained for nine hours. In a protest the Belgian archbishop, Andre-Joseph Leonard, described the raid as “worthy ofThe Da Vinci Code”. Police also raided the home of Leonard’s predecessor, Godfried Danneels, seizing various computers. The church’s finance department was also raided and all its computers were taken away. No one can accuse the Belgian authorities of taking this matter lightly. This must have been the biggest police operation in recent Belgian history.  But there is a peculiarly bizarre part of the operation:  The police drilled into the tombs of two former archbishops, Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Leon-Josef Suenens, using cameras to find documents.




What on earth could they have been looking for? Child pornography entombed with the cardinals… in imitation of concubines buried along with Egyptian pharaohs? Or did the police expect the cameras to find films of necrophiliac orgies?  The Vatican, in protesting the entire action, expressed particular outrage at the extension of the crusade against clerical lechery from the living to the dead.  Those of us who are not directly involved with this episode will be not so much outraged as puzzled:  What is it with the Belgians ?

Given the fact that Belgium is not only situated in the heart of Europe but, as the headquarters of the European Union, is Europe’s capital, most of us (myself included) know rather little about it. I visited Belgium only once, years ago, for some conference or other in Brussels. The conference had nothing to do with Belgium. I recall being impressed by three things—the excellence of the cuisine, the splendor of the Place d’Armes in the heart of the old city, and how small is the statue of Manneken Pis, the urinating small boy who is the main Brussels tourist attraction. (The story is that the boy was lost and his father promised to erect a statue if the boy is recovered – a statue depicting him doing whatever he was doing at the moment of recovery.)  Beyond that, my knowledge of things Belgian is lamentably meager. What doI know?


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