Police raided the home and former office of the recently retired archbishop of Belgium on Thursday, carrying off documents and a personal computer as part of an investigation into the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, the Associated Press reports.
Police and prosecutors would not say if former Archbishop Godfried Danneels was suspected of abuse himself or simply had records pertaining to allegations against another person.
Separately, police seized the records of an independent panel investigating sexual abuse by priests, some 500 cases in all. The head of the panel called the raid a huge violation of the privacy of people — mostly men now in their 60s and 70s — who have lived with the shame of abuse.
The raids followed recent statements to police "that are related to the sexual abuse of children within the church," said Jean-Marc Meilleur, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor's office. He would not offer specifics on the case.
Police took documents, but did not question Danneels at his home in the city of Mechlin, north of Brussels, said Hans Geybels, the spokesman for the former archbishop.
"They did take away his computer," he said.Geybels added Danneels was fully cooperating. "The cardinal believes justice must run its normal course. He has nothing against that," he said.
Armed with a search warrant, police entered the archbishop's office at 10 a.m. (0800GMT) just as the country's nine bishops were starting their monthly meeting with Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, Danneels successor, who took over in January.
Also present was Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the papal nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg.
Officials said all were held for nine hours and — along with diocese staff — had to surrender their cell phones.
Danneels was a leading liberal voice in Europe's church before he retired in January.
But he returned to the limelight when, in late April, Belgium's longest-serving bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting to having sexually abused a young boy during the time Danneels was archbishop.
The resignation led a former priest, Rik Deville, to say he warned Danneels at least 15 years ago that Vangheluwe had abused a boy. Danneels said in April, "I cannot remember such a discussion."
Meilleur said the search of Danneels home and office was unrelated to the Vangheluwe case. "This is a new case that came to us recently," he said.
The head of the sexual abuse investigation panel, child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens, criticized the raid, saying there was no need to seize the documents of all 500 cases being looked into by the committee.
Only 100 complainants were ready for their names to be revealed to justice authorities, he added.
The panel has been around for years, and had dealt with only around 30 cases of alleged abuse until the past year, when abuse cases by Catholic clergy began surfacing worldwide and its workload skyrocketed.
It has complained bitterly about lack of cooperation from the church in the past.
Vatican officials said that for the time being there would be no comment on the raids.
The sex abuse scandal has engulfed the church in Europe — and beyond — for months, with reports of abuse of in seminars, schools and other church-run institutions. Reports that priests have abused children or bishops have covered up for them have outraged the faithful.
The scandal has touched on Pope Benedict XVI's German homeland. This month, Benedict begged forgiveness from victims and promised to "do everything possible" to protect children.
The comments came during a Mass celebrated by 15,000 priests at St. Peter's Square marking the Vatican's Year of the Priest — a year marred by revelations of hundreds of new cases of clerical abuse in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, cover-ups by bishops and evidence of long-standing Vatican inaction.