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Ex-bishop admits abusing nephews

A former Belgian bishop at the centre of one of the Roman Catholic church's biggest paedophile scandals said he had abused two nephews but insisted he had no plans to abandon the priesthood.

In his first television interview since the scandal broke a year ago, Roger Vangheluwe, 74, claimed he paid one nephew he abused for years tens of thousands of euros in support, but denied it was meant to keep him silent.

He called 13 years of sexual abuse of one nephew which started at five as no more than "a little piece of intimacy" and said the abuse of a second nephew was very short. He said he fully realised what he did was wrong and often went to confession about it.

Vangheluwe resigned a year ago, just as the sex abuse scandal was spreading across Europe.

The acknowledgement of more abuse and his attempts to minimise its impact immediately caused an outcry.

Vangheluwe said the 13-year abuse of his nephew "started as, I would call it, a game. And in fact it never went much beyond that", he told VT4 network. "I had the strong impression that my nephew didn't mind at all. To the contrary," he said. "It was not brutal sex. I never used bodily, physical violence."

Walter Van Steenbrugge, the lawyer for the nephew, responded by saying that "knowing what happened, I want to ask him what he then understands to be brutal sex". He also denied Vangheluwe's claim that he paid the victim 25,000 euro (£22,000) several times over.

Justice minister Stefaan De Clercq said in a statement the church authorities "had to take measures to stop the irresponsible behaviour of the former bishop". "It is a slap in the face of his victims and all victims," he said.

Earlier this week, the Vatican used its new rules to crack down on sex abuse by high-ranking churchmen by ordering Vangheluwe to no longer work as a priest while officials determine his punishment. Belgian bishops reported that Vangheluwe had merely been sent outside the country for spiritual and psychological counselling.

Pope Benedict XVI will eventually decide Vangheluwe's fate. He could be stripped of his priesthood.

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