Belgium court throws out child sex claim against Holy See

GHENT (AFP) - A Belgian court on Tuesday rejected a rare attempt at a child sex class-action suit against the Holy See filed in 2011 by 39 alleged victims of priests and church workers.

The court in Ghent said the Holy See, which represents the Pope and the Vatican government, "is considered to be a state protected by international law that cannot be judged by a foreign court".

Vatican lawyers had pleaded that line before the court, arguing the Holy See's immunity could not be questioned.

In what at the time was said to be the first suit in Europe against the Holy See, dozens of victims of a child sex scandal in the Belgian Catholic church summoned Catholic authorities to appear before the court for failing to stop the abuse.

"The Pope is the head of the Holy See," said lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge in 2011. "He is the appointer and authority over the bishops, which means that he can be liable for their errors. In addition, he can be held liable for his own faults.

"He neglected to intervene himself and to give instructions, which meant that abuse was liable to continue and the damage was able to increase."

The suit was launched after revelations in 2010 of nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests and church workers since the 1950s, including 13 known suicides among victims.

But the Ghent court on Tuesday also threw out the class-action suit, saying charges filed by one of the plaintiffs on behalf of all 39 failed to properly identify those alleged to have caused harm or pinpoint the harm they may have caused.

The bishops "thus do not know what is reproached them", the court said.

It said it was open to receiving new complaints from the remaining 38 individuals however.

The scandal in the Belgian church surfaced after revelations that the bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe had abused a nephew for 13 years.

He was exiled by the Vatican to a French monastery for spiritual reflection but while there confessed in an interview to abusing another nephew, and then went missing.

That development further angered victims of church sexual abuse.