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Will thousands of pornographic images on Vangheluwe’s computer still cost him his title as bishop?

Abuse in the church

Did the tens of thousands of pornographic pictures on Roger Vangheluwe’s computer cost him his episcopal title years later? In our country people hope so, but there are still many obstacles. Minister Paul Van Tigchelt (Open VLD) suggested to the papal nuncio that the Vatican should be informed of what was found on Vangheluwe’s computer.

“Porn goes against the sixth commandment of chastity. Through porn the devil enters and the priestly heart is weakened.” Ask Pope Francis if clergy can surf porn and his answer will be no. However, canon law, article 1398, is more specific: pornography involving minors or vulnerable persons is prohibited. Whether adult clergy are allowed to surf adult porn with impunity under church law? It seems more likely than not.

Church lawyer Rik Torfs clarifies to the Belga news agency that watching porn is not prohibited under church law. Only possessing and distributing images of child abuse or pornography featuring people with disabilities is punished by the Catholic Church. These rules were added to canon law in 2021. “Watching porn is not prohibited, even if reference is made to the sixth commandment about unchastity,” says the canon law professor. “That is a moral argument and cannot be used to punish people.”

Moral condemnation

Although there is no prohibition, the Church can morally condemn porn viewing. “But those are two different things,” says Torfs. “A criminal law must be interpreted strictly. The church legislator is not ignorant and knows that a large part of the population, including priests, watches porn.”

The focus of a debate is to strip Roger Vangheluwe (87), the exiled Bruges bishop, of his ecclesiastical titles. Tens of thousands of pornographic images were found on his computer seized in 2010. Removing his title has been the request of the Belgian bishops for some time, who have sent a letter to the Vatican to secretly strip Vangheluwe of his episcopal title. A decision has been awaited for months. There was reportedly a request to send a new file to the Vatican.


Minister of Justice Paul Van Tigchelt (Open VLD) said in parliament at the end of last year that the issue must be settled before the arrival of Pope Francis in our country, sometime in 2024. On January 9, 2024, he had a meeting about the issue at the cabinet with the papal nuncio, a representative. Tricky point: Vangheluwe was punished years ago and banished to secrecy. He is no longer allowed to preside over mass, let alone administer the sacraments. Strictly speaking, he cannot be punished a second time.

According to our information, Van Tigchelt suggested during that interview that the Vatican should be informed of the many thousands of pornographic prints that were found on his computer during Operation Chalice. The nuncio indicated that he would start working with this apparently unknown information to the Vatican. After all, “new” elements must emerge in order to punish Vangheluwe. The nuncio is said to have already met with the federal public prosecutor’s office about this. However, we hear that there has not yet been an official letter from the Vatican to the federal prosecutor’s office. And therefore no decision yet.

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