Cardinal Sepe did not return emails and telephone calls on Thursday.
Bishop Belo’s resignation coincided with the explosion of the clerical sex abuse scandal in the United States. While the Vatican began to focus on and review cases of abuse by priests, it did not do the same for many bishops, a more powerful position in the church hierarchy. They were generally unaccountable until 2019, when Pope Francis introduced a law requiring that accusations of sexual abuse against bishops be reported and investigated internally.
The Vatican declined to comment about whether it had known of accusations against Bishop Belo when he resigned in 2002 or when it later sent him to Mozambique, or whether it had alerted the local authorities in Portugal or East Timor in 2019, when it says the allegations were brought to its attention.
Radio Renascença, a private broadcaster partially backed by the Portuguese church, reported on Thursday that it had reached out to Bishop Belo, who is believed to be living in Portugal, but got no response.
A Portuguese branch of the Salesian order, to which Bishop Belo belonged, took him in at the request of superiors after he left East Timor in 2002, according to a statement on its website Thursday. The Salesians said he hadn’t had “any educational or pastoral positions or responsibilities” with the group in the country.
“It was with deep sadness and perplexity,” the statement said, that they learned “what was reported about the suspected sexual abuse of minors” by Bishop Belo, adding that they had no longer had a close association with him.
As recently as May, he celebrated the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s independence and delivered remarks, according to an article on the Salesians’ website.
The news of the allegations, and their acknowledgment by the Vatican, had already begun spreading around East Timor on Thursday.