The Vatican confirmed Thursday that Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, a Nobel laureate and bishop from the Southeast Asian nation of East Timor, has been under “certain disciplinary restrictions” since September 2020 related to accusations of sexual abuse of minors.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, said in a Sept. 29 statement to the press that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was “first involved in this case in 2019” and imposed restrictions on Belo the following September.
“These included limitations to his movements and to the exercise of his ministry, the prohibition of voluntary contact with minors, of interviews and contacts with Timor Leste,” Bruni said.
“In November 2021 these measures were modified and reinforced. On both occasions, the measures were formally accepted by the bishop,” he said.
Belo, 74, a priest of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, led the Archdiocese of Dili as apostolic administrator from 1988–2002. Along with current East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, Belo jointly received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his nonviolent resistance and advocacy amid the 1975–1999 Indonesian annexation and occupation of the country.
The Vatican’s statement comes after a left-leaning Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, published on Sept. 28 an investigation into allegations of abuse, including rape, allegedly committed by Belo against teenage boys, both before and after he became apostolic administrator of Dili.
The investigation anonymously quotes two alleged victims, now in their 40s, who say the bishop abused his position of power over boys in the area who lived in extreme poverty. De Groene says their reporters spoke to “several victims and 20 people with knowledge of the matter,” about half of whom “know a victim” of Belo’s alleged abuse.
According to the investigation, allegations against Belo first came to light in 2002. That same year, St. John Paul II accepted Belo’s sudden resignation as apostolic administrator — which at the time Belo said was done for health reasons. The Vatican has not yet confirmed whether or not it had knowledge of the abuse allegations against Belo at the time of his resignation.
The following year, Belo left East Timor for Portugal, and in 2004 he took up a missionary post in the Portuguese-speaking African nation of Mozambique, returning to Portugal a few years later.
Ramos-Horta declined to comment on Belo’s case to the Associated Press. The Salesian order in Portugal says that Belo did not have “any educational or pastoral positions or responsibilities” with the group in the country.
Belo’s former archdiocese is the largest of East Timor’s three dioceses. In August, Pope Francis made Dili’s archbishop, Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, a cardinal.
East Timor, or Timor-Leste, occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, which it shares with Indonesia. The population of the country, which was colonized by Portugal, is nearly 98% Catholic and very youthful — approximately 40% of the population is below the age of 15 and the country’s median age is 20, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Pope Francis has expressed interest in visiting the region. In an October 2021 interview, the pope said that in 2022 he would like to make trips to Papua New Guinea and East Timor, which had been planned for late 2020 before they were canceled because of the pandemic.