BRUSSELS — Belgium's longest-serving bishop resigned Friday, expressing sorrow for having sexually abused a young boy both as a priest and after becoming a bishop in 1984.
The resignation of Roger Vangheluwe, 73, the Bishop of Bruges, was the first in Belgium since a child abuse scandal began testing the Catholic Church several months ago in Europe and the United States.
His resignation stands out because while several bishops have resigned amid the abuse scandal — three from Ireland in the past four months alone — they did so under the weight of accusations they shielded pedophiles in their roles, not because they themselves abused children.
"When I was still just a priest, and for a certain period at the beginning of my episcopate, I sexually abused a minor from my immediate environment," Vangheluwe said in a statement announcing his resignation read by Archbishop Andre Leonard of Belgium.
"The victim is still marked by what happened. Over the course of these decades I have repeatedly recognized my guilt toward him and his family, and I have asked forgiveness. But this did not pacify him, as it did not pacify me."
Vangheluwe was due to retire next year. Pope Benedict XVI has accepted his resignation.
Earlier this month, Norwegian church officials revealed that Bishop Georg Mueller had resigned a year earlier because he had molested a child when he was a priest.
One of the highest-ranking churchmen to resign because he was an abuser was the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer. He was forced to resign as archbishop in 1995 over claims he had molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s.