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Austen IvereighSeptember 01, 2010

Cardinal Danneels's spokesman, Toon Osaer, has posted a statement by the Cardinal's lawyer in the comboxes below my previous post. The statement sheds some important light on how Danneels saw the meeting with the abuse victim, his uncle, the bishop, who abused him, and their relatives. Leaving aside his advocate's defence points, he offers some important contextual facts:

1. that in early April Bishop Vangheluwe of Bruges calls the Cardinal to confess that 20 years earlier, from 1973 to 1986, he had sexually abused his nephew, and that the abuse had continued until he (by then a bishop) had been confronted by his brother. Danneels was obviously shocked. The lawyer does not say what Danneels said to the bishop on this occasion or subsequently, only that he could "barely respond". But he does make clear that Danneels and Vangheluwe are close -- which is presumably why the bishop turned to him. 

2. On 8 April the bishop approaches him at a meeting for the elderly which is honouring Danneels, who stood down as Archbishop of Brussels in January. He asks him to mediate later that day in a meeting of his family; Danneels, unprepared, tries to postpone but the family are en route, and he agrees. The meeting is held at 3pm that day.

3. The cardinal assumes that his role is to help bring about reconciliation and healing in the family, who do not wish for publicity or scandal. (The family has known about the abuse for 24 years and has stayed quiet.) This expectation was not shared by the bishop's nephew, who is approaching Danneels as the bishop's "employer". Danneels offers to put him in touch with the current Archbishop of Brussels, or for the bishop to resign, but the nephew doesn't take up those offers, leaving it up to Danneels, saying only that "for today" he wanted the bishop to confess in front of the family. Danneels invites the bishop to do so, who confesses and begs forgiveness for the first time in 24 years.

4. The conversation turns into a "painful family dispute" which is not reflected in the published transcript (the meeting was secretly recorded by the nephew). The meeting ends with Danneels suggesting a time for reflection and a further meeting. But that does not happen because, a few days later, the bishop resigns, confessing publicly to the abuse.

It is easy to understand why Danneels believed he was exercising a pastoral role: the fact that the family don't want a public scandal, the bishop confessing to his family after 24 years, the heightened emotions, the confusion over what should be done. Context is all. Danneels is, at this point, the retired archbishop; it would fall to his successor to act on the knowledge that one of his bishops had an abusive past. But he believes that the family doesn't want him to report the matter to Archbishop Leonard. It is confusing, and emotional.

Danneels's attorney is right to say that "it is not the role of a mediator in a confidential discussion to inform or alert any third party and since anyhow, no legal recourse or remedies were still available, neither from a canon law nor from a civil law perspective." For action to be taken, the victim must ask for it; to Danneels, it appeared that the victim did not want recourse to the law, canonical or civil. He therefore focussed on the possibility of forgiveness.

All this is reasonable, and understandable. But it is clear from the transcript that the victim does, in fact, want his uncle to be punished in some way -- he is just not sure how, or what is best. That is why he keeps putting the responsibility back onto Danneels. In effect, he is saying: "do something".

And that is where the Cardinal fails -- at least morally -- to help the victim find that justice, which is why his attorney's insistence that he acted in a "morally irreproachable" way does not persuade. "I only want to report it", says the nephew. Danneels' offer to arrange a meeting with Archbishop Leonard -- which the victim does not take up (although he doesn't reject it either) -- is much less than Danneels saying that he himself would report the matter to his successor (which would trigger action).

The Cardinal does not offer to do this because he is in pastoral mode, focussing on healing and reconciliation, which he believes the family wants. But he has fatally misread the victim's anger, which desires punishment of some sort; he wants redress. The nephew does not know how, or what, should be done, and he resents being asked to take responsibility for that decision; he is giving the Cardinal moral responsibility for the action that the victim inchoately wants to be taken. The Cardinal does not take that responsibility.

Danneels had good reasons for not doing so. He may have detected in the inchoateness of the nephew's response an emotional confusion which signalled to him, as a pastor, that more discussion needed to take place, and for calm to supervene, before that action could be decided upon. As the attorney points out, "the solutions proposed by the Cardinal are potentially substantially more effective than their alternatives". The fact that the nephew had been abused would be made public; the bishop would resign under a cloud of scandal; the family's tragedy would be raked over by the press; the police would investigate -- these would, presumably, be horrific ordeals for anyone, and it is understandable that the Cardinal read from the meeting that this was not the path the victim and his family wanted to take.  So he suggested another meeting.

Most commenters have seen in this only a bishop covering up for another bishop out of institutional omertà. That is far too simplistic. The failure on Danneels's part arises from confusion about his role. He believes he is mediating in a family dispute which the family desires to keep private; but the victim is asking him to take responsibility and to act, on behalf of the Church as an institution.

That misreading, humanly speaking, is understandable. But it is also a consequence of a certain deafness on Danneels's part, an incapacity to empathise with a victim's anger and desire for justice. He was right to offer that path of forgiveness; he was right to believe that the healing of the heart, made possible by the grace offered to us by Jesus Christ, would be the best outcome of all for everyone. But as a bishop of the Church, he also needed to offer to be the victim's advocate, to assist him in his desire for justice, by offering to take the matter to Archbishop Leonard. In this sense, he is not acting as an impartial mediator; he is pressuring the victim, in effect, not to take action, by making it look difficult to do so. Even if he believes -- as surely he does -- that forgiveness, rather than justice, is best for the family, he is not in a position to seek to impose that path. 

There is a painful lesson here for the contemporary Catholic Church, and that is to understand the way the wind has changed. A bishop who learns of a case of clerical sex abuse nowadays has to act to secure justice for the victim -- if that is what the victim desires. The responsibility, in other words, lies with the Church to turn to the law, even when this may not be in the best interests of the victim or his family. In a sense there is no longer a legitimate private, pastoral  sphere where abuse is concerned, except in those cases where the victim makes clear his desire that he does not want action taken. In all other circumstances, knowledge must automatically trigger action.

Many bishops and priests deplore this, and for good reasons. The abuse crisis has made the private, pastoral path all but impossible. Where the victim desires action, however inchoately, there is only one path a bishop can now take: to report it, and to stay well clear of any attempt at pastoral action until after justice has taken its course. The wind has shifted. The ground has chilled. And those who, like the retired Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, fail to see it, pay a heavy price. 


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Molly Roach
13 years 3 months ago
The "private pastoral path" strikes me as code for the  "we're not going to do much if anything about this" patterns of the past. And yet it is presented here as a lament.  This is a very confusing essay.  
Jack Barry
13 years 3 months ago
Your effort to clarify your original reaction is commendable but needs more work.  The logic defending private pastoral privilege would apparently apply similarly for torture, rape, and infanticide  - provided the complaint was not inchoate, a peculiar demand to impose on a victim of grievous assault.  Further clarification is needed. 
This Cardinal spent decades, through January 2010, in high office with heavy responsibilities, subject only to God and the Pope.  Now, he would have us believe he was overwhelmed by naivete in a meeting with one scurrilous colleague, of whose malfeasance he was already aware, and a rightfully angry, innocent, long-wounded family.  If that is to excuse him now, there is obviously much more past covert activity to be investigated promptly from the years when youth and inexperience made him even more naive. 
Your conclusion about priests and bishops having difficulty today sailing into shifted winds sounds as if the strange concept of justice - God's, the Church's, the state's, and individual's - is a new abstruse notion that just popped up.  Charity (for all) is another item that gets shortchanged in the whole discussion.  A coherent analysis is needed.  Blogging is probably not the suitable vehicle for it, although it certainly helps to raise the issues.  
William deHaas
13 years 3 months ago
Mr. Ivereigh - appreciate the multiple postings that indicate your efforts to be balanced, fair, and nuanced.  May I add a couple of comments:
a)  there are other parts to this story that are not included in terms of total context - for example, a retired priest in the diocese met with Daneels in 1996 with information about this bishop's abusive behavior.  Daneels barely gave him the time of day and followed up with a threatening letter that his accusations had no merits.
b)  most abuse situations have multiple sides and stories attached - my guess is that we have not heard from all sides or parties...this is even more than just an internal family matter - would guess that others knew and said nothing
c)  unfortunately, to distill this down to an internal forum vs. external investigation misses  the current and past pattern of how the episcopacy approached, mishandled or were not prepared to deal with these situations.  Given that these meetings were in April, 2010 - where has Daneels been in terms of the worldwide church abuse scandal - was this the first time he ever confronted this type of situation?  He does not appear to have learned much in terms of how to deal with abuse - he is acting as if it is still 1985?
d)  link to SNAP's response to Daneel's lawyer's explanation - it highlights the problems with Daneel's internal/pastoral approach (who really defines Pastoral) (c): http://www.snapnetwork.org/snap_statements/2010_statements/083110_new_bishops_policy_is_backwards.htm

Highlights -
''This is a substantially weaker version of the very weak and only sporadically enforced US bishops' policy. It essentially keeps all of the power and discretion with the same bishops and church structure that has, for decades, ignored and concealed and enabled the horrific assaults on thousands of kids, and still does. There's no pledge of openness or any guarantees that predators will be exposed or suspended from ministry. It's window dressing, nothing more.''
13 years 3 months ago


I agree with the statements of Molly Roach, Jack Barry and Bill deHaas above.  This is just so much Clerical-Speak.

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?  

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. 
Moreover, it has been documented elsewhere that Danneel received reports about Vangheluwe as early as 1996.

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

David Nickol
13 years 3 months ago
Many bishops and priests deplore this, and for good reasons. The abuse crisis has made the private, pastoral path all but impossible. 

But isn't it because of the private, ''pastoral'' path that we had the abuse crisis? If bishops had handled cases of sexual abuse by priests justly and wisely, there would have been no crisis. 

What is the answer to the victim's question, ''Why do you feel sorry for him and not for me?'' From everything I have seen so far, the victim appears quite reasonable to me given the circumstances. But what if he is too angry or hostile or vindictive? He was sexually abused from the time he was five years old! If sexual abuse did no lasting harm to the victims, it wouldn't be so serious. You can't torment a child from the age of 5 to 18 and then later say to him, ''Come on, be reasonable,'' as if there were some way to pretend the past didn't happen. The victim was horribly wounded, and he is blamed for acting like a wounded person. 

How you ''mediate'' in a situation where one person was so clearly a victimizer and the other was so helplessly a victim? 
Carolyn Disco
13 years 3 months ago
The Tablet has an outstanding article on the Danneels tapes by Ivereigh's friend Tom Heneghan, the impetus for Ivereigh's second post (his mea culpa) on the tapes.

The tapes (3) post above is rebutted by Heneghan:
“The tapes, secretly recorded by the victim, undermined Cardinal Danneels’ earlier assertion that he only met the 42-year-old victim to mediate between him and his uncle, Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe…
“Cardinal Danneels made a concerted effort to persuade the unnamed victim to keep quiet. On several occasions, he brushed away the apparently distressed man’s pleas for help and focused firmly on shielding Vangheluwe and the Church…''
The current Archbishop's quote (Andre-Joseph Leonard), concludes the article with a no-comment deflection: “It’s not my job to pass judgment on them” (the tapes). Really, REALLY?
Leonard senses no need to reach out to the victim in abject sorrow for the way the victim was treated? The uncle is resigned, so the issue is settled? What about listening, truly listening to the courageous victim? And not just once. What about telling the nephew and the nation what he is doing as archbishop to assure that such cover-ups are over.  What about asking the victim (and all victims) what he needs from the church at this point – and doing it?
What about requiring that all allegations be reported immediately to police, that he Leonard will turn over all records to authorities since he does not want to withhold evidence anymore? That Leonard will do as Schoenbrunn (sp?) did in Vienna, and invite survivors who wish to do so, to speak at a cathedral penitential service, where the prelate will lie prostrate in confession and sorrow, and not say a word?
Ah, the clerical mindset is a stubborn thing. Never admit anything specifically, wash your hands of a searing case, and just repeat some pieties of one sort of another…For shame.

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