Tuesday July 6, 2010

Cardinal Danneels Questioned Today in Connection with Abuse Cover-ups

By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, July 6, 2010 ( – The former cardinal archbishop of Brussels is being questioned in court hearings today on his suspected involvement in cover-ups of clerical sex abuse that occurred during his 30 years as head of the Belgian Catholic Church. Godfried Cardinal Danneels is taking the stand this morning in hearings that prosecutors are expecting “not to be short.”

Additionally, local news reports that authorities were surprised to find concealed in Danneels’s home confidential court documents related to the infamous case of electrician Marc Dutroux, who kidnapped, raped and murdered several young girls in the late 1990s.

Het Laaste Niews reports that dozens of photographs of the victims’ corpses and the ruins of the cells where they were imprisoned, as well as magistrates’ reports, were found among Danneels’s files.

On Thursday July 24, police raided the offices of the Brussels archdiocese and Danneels’s home, saying they expected to find documents revealing the involvement of the Belgian bishops in the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

The popular Danneels, a leading voice in the European Church’s “liberal-progressive” wing, was implicated by the head of the Church’s own independent commission in covering up cases of clerical sexual abuse. Peter Adriaenssens, a child psychiatrist, has told media that the cardinal’s name has appeared in 50 of the complaints made by victims before the commission was disbanded following the police raids. Adriaenssens said that Danneels was implicated not as an abuser himself, but as someone who knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

In April, shortly after Danneels’s retirement in January, his close friend and protégé, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned as bishop of Bruges after admitting he had abused his own nephew for decades.

At the time, Danneels claimed that he had first learned of Vangheluwe’s crimes only days before they became public. But a Brussels priest, Fr. Rik Devillé has challenged this, saying that he had informed Danneels about Vangheluwe between 15 and 17 years ago, after speaking to a confidant of the victim’s family. Danneels said he has no recollection of Deville’s allegations.

In the first two weeks following the resignation of Vangheluwe, over 475 people contacted the independent Church commission on sexual abuse to report their cases. Before Danneels’s retirement, only 30 cases had been registered with the commission in the previous 10 years and none with the police.

Public outrage at the mishandling of the case of Marc Dutroux, a pedophile rapist and serial killer who kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six girls age 8 to 19 between 1995 and 1996, resulted in some reforms of the criminal justice system.

Dutroux is known to have killed four of his victims, two of whom were buried alive, and was also convicted of murdering an accomplice. In his confession Dutroux maintained that he had been acting in conjunction with a pan-European pedophile ring that involved high-level government officials.

The Dutroux case is still prominent in the public consciousness of Belgium. At the time, official mishandling of the investigation and prosecution of the case caused widespread public outrage, culminating in a march of 300,000 on the capital in Brussels in 1996.

Many aspects of the case remain unresolved, including allegations of a vast conspiracy to block the investigation. Jean-Marc Connerotte, the original judge of the case, testified in court to being protected by bullet-proof vehicles and armed guards after police warned of death threats by “shadowy figures.”

Read related LSN coverage:

Belgian Church Raids Compared to Babylonian Chastisement