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New York Times

ROME - The Vatican expressed shock on Friday at Thursday's raid on church offices by Belgian police searching for hidden evidence of child sex abuse by priests. It also voiced its indignation at what it called the "violation" of two cardinals' tombs in the search.

In a bold and provocative assertion of state over church as anger rises in Europe over abuse by priests, the police not only detained the members of the Belgian Bishops' Conference for nine hours on Thursday while searching for documents related to sex abuse cases, but they also drilled into the tombs of two cardinals in the Brussels Cathedral.

"It was worthy of the Da Vinci Code," the archbishop of Belgium, Andre-Joseph Leonard, said at a news conference Friday in Brussels.

"The justice system does its work, and it has the right to carry out searches," the archbishop said. "Nonetheless, I find it slightly surprising that it went as far as poking around in tombs."

The Vatican on Friday issued a formal complaint to Belgium through the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See.

In the statement, the Vatican said its secretary of state "expressed great stupor at the way in which the seizures were conducted yesterday by Belgian authorities and indignation at the fact that two tombs were violated."

On Thursday, the authorities also seized materials from the home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Leonard's predecessor for the past 20 years, and they took all of the computers from the church's finance department, said Eric de Beukelaer, the spokesman for the Belgian Bishops' Conference.

In the Cathedral of Mechelen north of Brussels, the police drilled into the tombs of Cardinal Jozef-Ernest Van Roey, and Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens, two former archbishops of Mechelen-Brussels, and used cameras to look for documents, de Beukelaer said.

The police did not comment on the allegations of tomb raiding, the Belgian news agency Belga reported Friday.