Vatican secretly disciplined East Timor’s Nobel-winning bishop for alleged child abuse

The Vatican on Thursday acknowledged that it secretly disciplined East Timor bishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Carlos Ximenes Belo two years ago in response to allegations that he sexually abused boys in East Timor.

The Vatican’s confession came in response to reporters’ questions this week following an article in the Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer.

In its report, De Groene Amsterdammer cited two men, identified only by pseudonyms, as saying that Belo raped them when they were 14 and 15 years old and then gave them money.

The publication cited two men who believed Belo had sexually abused other boys in East Timor. Some of the alleged abuse took place at the bishop’s residence in the capital, Dili.

De Groene Amsterdammer said he had evidence that Belo had also sexually abused boys in the 1990s when he was a priest.

Reuters could not immediately locate Belo. De Groene Amsterdammer said he hung up the phone when reached for comment on the allegations.

Belo, 74, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, along with current President Jose Ramos-Horta, for their work to end the conflict in East Timor. The Norwegian Nobel committee cited Belo’s bravery in 1991 when he helped uncover the massacre of East Timor by the Indonesian army.

The former Portuguese colony gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a bloody occupation that left hundreds of thousands dead.

In the same year that East Timor gained independence, Belo, citing health reasons caused by stress and burns, resigned as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Dili to Pope John Paul II, who accepted it.

He was only 54 at the time, 21 years short of the usual retirement age for a bishop.

After ceasing to be the bishop of Dili, Belo worked as a missionary in Mozambique and later settled in Portugal, where he still lives.

In his statement, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which handles sexual abuse cases, first became involved in the case in 2019 “in response to allegations received about the bishop’s conduct.”

In 2020, he imposed “disciplinary restrictions” including “restrictions on his movements and the exercise of his ministry, voluntary relations with minors, conversations and contacts” with East Timor.

Bruni said the measures had been “modified and strengthened” in 2021, without elaborating. A Vatican spokesman said the bishop had “formally accepted” the cuts twice.

Belo is a member of the Salesian religious order, which traditionally specializes in the education of children.

The Portuguese branch of the order said on its website that Belo had learned of the “suspicion” of sexual abuse of minors with “deep sadness and confusion”.

Since his arrival in Portugal, Belo said he has no “educational responsibilities or pastoral responsibilities” with the order.