Hundreds of submissions to a special commission set up with the backing of the church in eastern Louvain to examine complaints received of past child abuse were also taken by officers in a related swoop.

Police, who did not formally interview any officials, returned to the archdiocese with two more lorries early evening to cart off further material for forensics to comb through seeking hard evidence.

Abuse admission

The Roman Catholic church in Belgium has endured some of the worst of the worldwide paedophilia scandal to beset the Vatican.

In April, its longest-serving bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, 73, resigned from his Bruges post after admitting sexually abusing a boy for years.

According to Dirk Deville, a retired priest, hundreds of cases of sexual abuse had been signalled to Danneels going back to the 1990s, but Danneels himself recently denied being involved in any cover-up.

"I cannot recall such a conversation and it would astonish me if I had paid no attention to such a message or had forgotten it," Danneels, a former Belgian primate, insisted.

A victim of a paedophile priest in Wallonia has also accused Andre-Joseph Leonard, Danneels' successor as leader of Belgium's Catholics, of covering up an abuser and keeping him for five years at his post.

Eric De Beukelaer, Leonard's spokesman, recently said: "We did as much as we could at the time, removing the priest involved from all of the pastoral functions that would have put him in contact with children."

Forgiveness sought

In a bid to restore confidence within an increasingly sceptical flock, Belgium's bishops came together in May to publicly beg forgiveness from victims both for the actions of paedophile priests and for the church's "silence" down the years.

Paedophile priest scandals and allegations of high-level cover-ups have surged again since last year across Europe, the US and Brazil.

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI, who has met with abuse victims in Australia, the US and Malta, begged for forgiveness over the matter.

"We ... insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that  such abuse will never occur again," he said.

The pope himself has faced allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the Vatican's chief morals enforcer, he helped to protect predator priests.