Danneels: my mistakes

Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, whose attempts to mediate in a family dispute over one of his bishops who had abused his nephew ended in disaster, was the subject of three previous posts (here, here and here) which I rather agonised over, caught up, as I was, in the human drama of it all.

The Cardinal has now given an extensive interview to some French-language Belgian newspapers including La Libre Belgique, which is running the first part on its website. The burden of it, according to Reuters, is that he admits to a serious misjudgement in not urging Bishop Roger Vangheluwe to resign; that he committed a serious misjudgement in allowing himself to being bounced into a meeting whose purpose was not clear; and that he never intended to suggest that the issue should not be made public.


Looking at the Libre Belgique interview transcript, it is clear that he is bewildered by the fact that the family have kept the abuse quiet for 25 years, and that they were strongly divided over whether it should be made public. It is this, he says, which concerned him most, pastorally speaking, and which accounts for his midjudgements. He says (my trans):

Going back to my contact with the family, I wanted to help them on a pastoral level; that is something that is important to me. I was more worried about the divisions in the heart of the family, and I dared to hope that they could reach a reconciliation. That is why I spoke of forgiveness. But I made a mistake in showing them my good heart. I should have immediately invited Bishop Vangheluwe to resign, rather than trying to reconcile the family. In any case, it was my intention to propose that route if the discord continued within the family.


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7 years 10 months ago
I can only say again that this is just so much Clerical-Speak.  Danneel's ''mistakes'' were criminal in as much as his actions protected and enabled a sexual predator.  If Vangheluwe had been reported to the civil authorities he most likely would have been arrested and charged with the sexual abuse of a child.

Danneel's pleading naiveté is as absurd as it is disingenuous.  
Surely April of 2010 was not the first time he has had to deal with the reality of priests sexually abusing minor children, young men, women or vulnerable adults?

It has been made public that Danneel was made aware of Vangheluwe's behavior as early as 1996 and that priest was dismissed out of hand.

The protection of Vangheluwe's image and reputation comes across clearly in Cardinal Danneel's words as it has in the words of bishops worldwide during these past twenty-five years in documents, previously sealed depositions and private letters, criminal and civil lawsuits and the like.
Danneel appears to have avoided considering the possibility that Vangheluwe may have abused others in addition to his nephew and even enabled other sexual predators because of his position as bishop of Bruges or vulnerability to blackmail.

Cardinal Danneel's failure to act in the best interests of either Vangheluwe's nephew or the People of God is just the most recent example of Clericalism at its worst.
Would it have been too much to expect that Danneels, a Cardinal Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, would consider it his pastoral responsibility in both charity and justice to alert church authorities - Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the  Bishops' Conference - about the implications Vangheluwe's sexually abusive behavior posed?

Cardinal Danneel's inability to act morally with integrity reveals the hubris bred into the church's clerical system along with examples of the chutzpah of individual episcopal leaders which hasn't changed all that much in recent years.  There are scores of examples while none have been disciplined.  Danneel is only the latest example. 

Sadly, it appears to many that the pope's visit to England, like his visits to other countries, will result in little of substance regarding any disciplining of episcopal authorities who have abused their power and authority in enabling and covering up for sexual predators, no matter their rank. 
Yes, the pope may talk to a few victims as he has done in the past but beyond his words of sympathy, whose sincerity I do not doubt, what really substantive steps has he taken?  

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
7 years 10 months ago
Danneels is still wrong. Before the meeting, when he first learned his
colleague abused a child, he should have called the police and told the
truth and warned the flock. Quietly prodding a colleague to resign
without disclosing the crimes is irresponsible.
Barbara Dorris
Outreach Director
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
314 862 7688
Claire Mathieu
7 years 10 months ago
Cardinal Danneels has been a bishop for 33 years. During that period he always had 900-1500 diocesan priests whose problems he had to deal with (plus 500-1000 religious priests). He has been the primate of Belgium for 31 years, and in particular, was until January of this year responsible for an archdiocese with a population of over 2 million people.

We are now in 2010. The problems of sexual abuse by clergy have be frontline news at least since 2001. Pope Benedict has been battling those news unremittingly in Europe since the begining of 2009, and wrote a well-publicized letter to the Irish in March 2010 containing much advice worth pondering. The bishop-accountability web site has 457 articles about sexual abuse in Belgium, with a significant and steady stream since 2005.

That's the context in which to judge Cardinal Danneels' ''misjudgment'', ''good heart'' and ''naivete''.



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