28 September 2022, The Tablet

Nobel Peace Prize bishop accused of sexual abuse

The allegations against the former apostolic administrator of Dili, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, were first published by Dutch newspaper.

Nobel Peace Prize bishop accused of sexual abuse

The then-Archbishop of Dili, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, pictured in 1996 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize with José Ramos-Horta.
DPA Picture Alliance

The former apostolic administrator of Dili, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, has been accused of sexual abuse of minors.

The allegations were first published by Dutch newspaper De Groene Amsterdammer, which printed testimonies by alleged victims and spoke to dozens of people who claimed they either knew about the case, or personally know victims. One of the alleged victims, now 42, says the bishop requested sexual acts in exchange for money when he was a teenager.

Named in the article as “Paulo”, he says he was approached by the bishop at the end of a Mass, when he was only 15 or 16, and invited to go to his residence. That evening, he says, the bishop undressed him, fondled him and performed oral sex on him, in exchange for monetary gifts.

According to the witnesses, the first cases of abuse date to the 1980s, before Ximenes Belo was made bishop of Dili, the capital of East Timor.

As a prelate, Ximenes Belo was an active voice in defence of the rights and freedoms of mostly Catholic East Timorese, during the decades when the former Portuguese colony was under occupation by Muslim-majority Indonesia, from 1975 to 1999. Hundreds of thousands of Timorese died during the occupation, and severe human rights abuses were committed.

Bishop Ximenes Belo’s status as a leading cleric gave him the freedom to advocate for his people. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, along with then exiled Timorese politician Ramos Horta, for his role, which attracted much international attention to the Timorese cause.

According to the newspaper, allegations first surfaced in 2002, after East Timor had gained independence, but were not made public. The bishop stepped down in November of that year, supposedly for health reasons, and moved to Portugal, where he continues to live with the Salesians, the religious order he belonged to before being named bishop.

Questioned by Portuguese press, the Salesians refused to comment, saying that Ximenes Belo is no longer subject to the order, because of his episcopal status.

Allegations about the bishop’s past crimes, said to have been committed against often vulnerable teenage boys, including seminarians, have circulated among Church circles in Portugal for years, but never made it to the press.

According to De Groene Amsterdammer, Bishop Ximenes Belo is under Vatican imposed restrictions on travel, and cannot return to East Timor without permission. He has also been required to keep a low profile, but there is no information regarding an actual canonical case against him.

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