A request by bishop emeritus Lucas Van Looy that the cardinalatial cap not be made his, has been granted by Pope Francis. The Belgian bishop’s request came fewer than twenty days after the announcement, following a controversy over his poor handling of sexual abuse within his diocese.
On Thursday, June 23th, the Belgian Bishops’ Conference released a statement which said that Van Looy’s impending appointment was not only met by “many positive reactions,” but also criticism. The latter was directed at his tenure as bishop of Ghent from 2004 to 2020, during which time “he did not always act decisively” against abuse cases within a “pastoral relationship.”
Aware of the increased suffering that his being made a part of the cardinalate would cause these victims, “Msgr. Van Looy asked Pope Francis to exempt him from accepting the appointment,” the statement explained. Pope Francis, it added, had “responded favorably.” In the statement, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel and the Belgian bishops “reiterate on this occasion their unremitting commitment to the fight against all forms of abuse within the Catholic Church.”
Van Looy is the first cardinal-designate named by Francis to request publicly that he not join the College of Cardinals. The former bishop of Ghent, now 80, resigned from his position in November 2019. He had spoken before a Belgian parliamentary commission on sexual abuse in 2010, where he said he was deeply ashamed about the sex abuse scandals that then rocked the Catholic Church, not only in Belgium but around the world. It was there that he admitted to failing to notify authorities of six letters he had received which pertained to abuse cases. Van Looy considered these letters “less pressing” because the accusations referred to retired priests.
On the website Bishop Accountability, which collates information regarding clerical abuse, Van Looy is among those listed. His entry mentions how his diocese allowed a Belgian predator priest active in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Ghent to continue without much hindrance. In 2018, the entry states, “Verbeke [the priest in question] was believed to be still a priest, and the bishops who failed to protect children from him retained their standing in the church.”
Last month, Pope Francis announced a list of twenty prelates and one priest who would be made part of the cardinalate. The series of appointments would take place at a consistory, scheduled for August 27th. Even if Bishop Van Looy had accepted, he would have been one of five candidates (over 80 years of age) who would be ineligible to vote in a future conclave.