Cardinal Sepe did not return emails or phone calls on Thursday.
Bishop Belo’s resignation coincided with the explosion of the clerical sexual abuse scandal in the United States. While the Vatican has begun to target and review cases of abuse by priests, it has not done the same with many bishops, a more powerful position in the church hierarchy. They were generally not held accountable until 2019, when Pope Francis introduced a law requiring allegations of sexual abuse against bishops to be reported and investigated internally.
The Vatican declined to comment on whether it was aware of the accusations against Bishop Belo when he resigned in 2002 or when he was later sent to Mozambique, or whether it alerted local authorities in Portugal or East Timor in 2019, when it says the accusations were called. your attention.
Radio Renascença, a private station partially backed by the Portuguese church, reported Thursday that it had contacted Bishop Belo, who is believed to be living in Portugal, but received no response.
A Portuguese branch of the Salesian order, to which Bishop Belo belonged, took him in at the request of his superiors after he left East Timor in 2002, according to a statement on its website Thursday. The Salesians said he had “no educational or pastoral position or responsibility” with the group in the country.
“It was with deep sadness and perplexity,” the statement says, that they learned “what was reported about the suspicions of sexual abuse of minors” by Bishop Belo, adding that they no longer had a close relationship with him.
As recently as May, he celebrated the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s independence and gave a speech, according to an article on the Salesians’ website.
News of the accusations, and their acknowledgment by the Vatican, had already begun to spread through East Timor on Thursday.