Monday August 30, 2010

Cardinal Danneels Urged Sex Abuse Victim to Silence: Secret Recordings

By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, August 30, 2010 ( – Recordings have revealed Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels urging a victim not to reveal 13 years of sexual abuse at the hands of the cardinal’s friend and colleague Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, the recently retired bishop of Bruges.

“The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait,” the cardinal is heard saying. Danneels warned the victim against trying to blackmail the church and suggested that he accept a private apology from the bishop and not drag his name “through the mud.”

The victim responded, “He has dragged my whole life through the mud, from five until 18 years old,” and asked, “Why do you feel sorry for him and not for me?”

Danneels, who retired in January, was recorded in April urging the now-42 year-old victim, the bishop’s own nephew, to keep silent until Vangheluwe’s retirement. The recordings were made secretly by the victim and transcriptions were published this weekend by two Belgian newspapers, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad.

After the victim went to the press, Vangheluwe retired in April, admitting he had sexually abused “a boy in my entourage” 20 years earlier. Questions have remained about whether Danneels knew about the abuse. The New York Times reported that the resignation only came after a friend of the victim e-mailed Belgian bishops threatening to expose the abuse. The victim told the Belgian press he released the recordings to demonstrate that he had not demanded hush money.

At one point in the recording, after cutting the victim off by saying he already knows the story of the abuse and does not need to hear it again, Danneels asks “What do you really want?”

The man responded, “I give you the responsibility, I can’t decide … you should do what you think should be done, because I don’t know how this whole system works.”

However, he then objected to the cardinal’s suggestion that he allow Vangheluwe to retire “in glory” without the abuse being revealed. When the victim begs Danneels to inform the Church hierarchy, presumably the Vatican, about Vangheluwe, the cardinal replies that he has no authority over the bishop, only the pope does.

When the victim suggests Danneels arrange a meeting with the pope, the cardinal responds, “The pope isn’t that easy to reach.” A little later, he adds, “I don’t think you’d do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops.”

Danneels further suggested to the victim that he admit his own guilt and ask forgiveness. “Who do I have to ask forgiveness for?” the victim responded.

After Danneels suggests that the victim is attempting to blackmail the Church, the latter begs the cardinal to take up his case, saying, “We were forced to get married by [Vangheluwe]. Our children were baptized by him, how can I explain this to them?

“Yesterday I said to my oldest son, look, this is what happened to me. They must know what has happened.”

In early July, Danneels was questioned by state prosecutors in a grueling ten hour session following police raids on his home and the offices of the archdiocese of Brussels. Prosecutors wanted to know how much the popular prelate knew about the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy during his nearly 30-year tenure as head of the Belgian Catholic Church.

After their questioning of Danneels, officials said that no charges would be laid against the cardinal until the investigation was complete. Before the release of the tapes, Danneels had denied any knowledge of sexual abuse by clergy or cover-ups by Church officials.

Regularly described in the press even now as “grandfatherly,” Danneels has enjoyed immense popularity in Belgium, especially with the secular media, for whom he has been the spokesman of the liberal “progressive” wing of the European Catholic Church since the 1970s. During his tenure he publicly clashed with Catholic teaching on issues related to sexuality, especially on homosexuality and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Danneels’s spokesman Toon Onsaer has continued to deny that the cardinal was involved in any cover-up.

“The cardinal admits that he actually suggested [that the victim wait until Vangheluwe’s retirement] as a solution, but that was only in his role as mediator,” he said.

“The family had asked him to mediate, and this he has done … He has tried to reach consensus which everyone felt comfortable with. He did not think the victim in the first place wanted the resignation of the bishop.”

Onsaer also admitted that the cardinal suggested “questions of forgiveness and reciprocity” as a solution for 13 years of sexual abuse, but said, “that is simply the pastoral approach to matters. You must not look for mischief behind this.”

Dutch-language daily De Standaard reported in April that two former priests had personally informed Cardinal Danneels about Vangheluwe’s abuse several times between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. At that time, Danneels denied knowing, saying, “With the best will in the world I cannot remember such a discussion. I’d be surprised that I wouldn’t have paid attention, or forgotten about such a statement.”

Danneels has said that he knew nothing of the Vangheluwe case until the bishop informed him a few weeks before the April press conference. Asked why Danneels did not at that time report the issue to his own church-appointed commission on sexual abuse by clergy, Onsaer said, “He thought he still was not allowed to under the confidentiality of the talks and to ask for things to be settled internally.

“The cardinal never really pressed the victim not to go Adriaenssens commission or the courts. The essence is: the Cardinal has tried to mediate and now he is himself a victim.”

There has been no statement from Belgian officials on the recordings and the legal statute of limitations for Vangheluwe’s crimes has run out in the 20 years since the abuse took place. The public prosecutor’s investigation into the Belgian Church appears to be stalled since it was declared that the police raids on the archdiocesan offices and the cardinal’s home were “illegal.”

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