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Vatican says it restricted Nobel Peace Prize-winning bishop

A spokesman said the Vatican received allegations against Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo in 2019.

Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. José Fernando Real via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Vatican confirmed Thursday that it had imposed restrictions on a Nobel Prize-winning bishop accused of sexually abusing teenage boys.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office, said on Sept. 29 that the Vatican had received allegations against Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo in 2019 and introduced measures against him within a year.

The Associated Press reported that the restrictions related to Belo’s freedom to travel and exercise his ministry. He was also forbidden to have voluntary contact with young people or his homeland of East Timor.

Bruni explained that the measures were “modified and reinforced” in November 2021 and that Belo accepted them in both instances.

The Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer reported on Sept. 28 that several men had claimed they were sexually abused by the bishop when they were teenagers.

One alleged victim said he was sexually abused by Belo when he was 15 or 16, and that the bishop gave him money afterward. Another man claimed he was raped by Belo when he was about 14 years old.

The allegations date back in some cases to the 1980s.

Belo, 74, came to international attention in the 1990s for his outspoken role in opposing the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, which lasted from 1975 until 1999.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his work “towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor.” He shared the honor with José Ramos-Horta, the current president of East Timor.

Belo, a member of the Salesian order, served as apostolic administrator of Dili, the capital of East Timor, from 1988 until his sudden retirement on Nov. 26, 2002, at the age of 54.

The bishop, who said he resigned for health reasons and to make way for a new leader in newly independent East Timor, moved to Portugal in January 2003.

In June 2004, he took up a missionary post in Mozambique for several years before returning to Portugal.

The Associated Press said that Belo was allowed to work with children during his time in Africa.

Belo told UCA News in 2005 that he went to Mozambique because it was a Portuguese-speaking country, like East Timor. He said the destination was chosen after discussions with Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the Rector Major of the Salesians.

“I am an assistant priest in [Mozambique’s capital] Maputo,” he said. “I do pastoral work by teaching catechism to children, giving retreats to young people. I have descended from the top to the bottom.”

De Groene Amsterdammer claimed that the allegations against Belo were known to the Vatican at the time of his resignation, but the bishop was not publicly disciplined.

Portuguese media reported that Belo hurriedly left his residence at a Salesian community in Lisbon after the Dutch magazine published its report this week.

In 2019, the year the Vatican said it was working to impose disciplinary measures on Belo, Pope Francis summoned the world’s bishops to an unprecedented summit on the clerical abuse crisis.

The meeting took place in February, the same month the Vatican announced that the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been dismissed from the clerical state for abusing minors.

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