“What’s Belgium famous for? Chocolates and child abuse, and they only invented the chocolates to get to the kids.”
From the movie, In Bruges ￼
The October Papal Family Synod, appearing more like the Nod-to-sin, inexplicably and curiously included a Papal Appointment to the Synod from Belgium, retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels.
During his 30 year reign from 1979-2010, as primate of Belgium, Cardinal Danneels oversaw the disastrous free fall of Catholicism in the once strongly Catholic country. Danneels presided over the precipitous secularization of Belgium which instituted abortion on demand, same sex marriage, and euthanasia. In June 2013, Danneels indicated his support for providing legal recognition for same-sex couples. He said “The Church has never opposed the fact that there should exist a sort of ‘marriage’ between homosexuals, but one therefore speaks of a ‘sort of’ marriage, not of true marriage between a man and a woman, therefore another word must be found for the dictionary. About the fact that this should be legal, that it should be made legitimate through a law, about this the Church has nothing to say.” Not surprisingly, under his episcopacy, religious vocations sunk to a historic low and church attendance dropped to a pitiful 6%.
Why would Pope Francis choose Danneels to be included in a select group of prelates for a Synod on the Family whose stated purpose is to explore a more robust Catholic evangelization? But there is even more disturbing behavior which raises serious questions about the Pope’s judgment in choosing Danneels to advise him on family issues and propagating the Catholic faith.
On April 8, 2010, the newly retired Cardinal Danneels received some visitors at his home. They were the relatives of the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, Danneels’ close friend. At this meeting, the nephew of Vangheluwe described a long and sordid 13 year molestation by his uncle, the Bishop of Bruges. Cardinal Daneels advised the nephew not to go public with the sexual abuse. During the meeting, Danneels advised the young man not to “make a lot of noise” about the abuse he endured from his uncle bishop because Vangheluwe was scheduled to retire in a year anyway. “It would be better that you wait,” advised Danneels, while also urging the young man to forgive his uncle.
The conversation was tape recorded by the nephew and subsequently released to the press. Cardinal Daneels, the former head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church for 3 decades, could be heard on tape urging this sexual abuse victim to stay quiet and not disclose the abuse until after the bishop who repeatedly molested him over a span of 13 years could retire. After the release of the recording, Danneels did not dispute the authenticity of the conversation. A media firestorm was unleashed in Belgium, a country still reeling over institutional coverups of child sex abuse.
Bishop/Uncle Vangheluwe admitted to the sexual abuse of his nephew and stepped down from his post shortly after the April 8 meeting between his nephew and Danneels. Because of the statute of limitations law, the Bishop of Bruges was never charged with the crime. However, the plot continues to thicken.
The daily De Standaard newspaper reported that two former Belgian priests, Fathers Rik Deville and Norbert Bethune had personally informed Cardinal Danneels about Bishop Vangheluwe’s child sexual abuse several times between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Father Deville told the Associated Press that he told Cardinal Danneels about a number of sexual-abuse cases. “The cardinal sometimes got angry and said it was not my job, that I should not get involved,” DeVille said.
Troubling, isn’t it that Pope Francis would select the disgraced Danneels for a prestigious Family Synod appointment after the Pope has verbally condemned bishops over the lingering global clergy abuse scandal? Francis exhorted the hierarchy that, “You don’t play around with the lives of children. The shame of the Church! But are we all ashamed of those scandals, of those failings of priests, bishops, laity. Where was the Word of God in those scandals? They did not have a relationship with God! They had a position in the Church, a position of power, even of comfort.”
Yes, precisely, Holy Father! Cardinal Godried Danneels served in a ‘position of power and comfort’ in his palace office for 30 years. And now, the retired Cardinal enjoys a position of power at the Family Synod.
Cardinal Danneels’ clerical coverup over the Vangheluwe molestation dominated European and global headlines for weeks. Overnight he went from the darling of the liberal press, to become the European poster prelate for silencing victims of clerical child sex abuse. Surely, Pope Francis knew about this scandal. But the plot thickens even further.
The Belgian Police conducted a surprise raid on the Cardinal’s residence and office looking for documents relating to clergy abuse and questioned the Cardinal for 10 hours. Although the Cardinal was never charged, the Catholic Church’s own investigation commission issued a 200 page report on 10 September 2010.
According to the report, the commission heard allegations from 488 complainants, concerning incidents that took place between 1950 and 1990. The report contained testimony from 124 people. Two-thirds of the complainants were men, now aged in their 50s and 60s. As head of the commission, Dr. Peter Adriaenssens, a prominent and respected psychiatrist, disclosed that Cardinal Godfried Danneels name surfaced in 50 cases, not as an abuser, but as someone who knew of the sexual child abuse by the clergy.
Belgium’s new Catholic leadership, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard said he was committed to exposing abuse cases, “The time for cover-up is over,” pledged the Archbishop.
But there are even more shocking revelations about this papal Family Synod member.
In 1998, a Catholic catechism textbook for Belgian children called Roeach 3 showed comic-book-style pictures of toddlers asking sexual questions and engaging in sexual play. The Belgian Catholic hierarchy, of which Danneels was the head, stated that the textbook was intended for adolescents, (as if that is a valid and Catholic justification) and that the pictures were meant to convey the idea that young children experience lust, a prevalent theory in contemporary psychology. Catholic parents were enraged and demanded that the Catechism be pulled from classrooms. Danneels repeatedly rebuffed the parent’s requests for meetings and removal of the book. Ultimately, the textbook was withdrawn after Catholic parents were required to seek intervention from the Vatican.
Will Cardinal Danneels’ sexualized approach toward child catechesis and his dismissive and arrogant attitude toward Catholic parents be reflected in the final Family Synod document?
Read the shocking and sordid story of Cardinal Danneels’ callous and imperious treatment of Catholic parents here.
It is unconscionable and baffling that a prelate who covers up clergy child sex abuse, condones laws in direct violation of Church teaching, and allows the publication and distribution of prurient images and heretical teaching in a Catholic catechism for children provide advice and guidance to Pope Francis on the status of the Catholic family. What pastoral value and insight could this discredited Cardinal bring to the Synod’s understanding of the Catholic family?
It boggles the mind and rattles the soul that this Cardinal who oversaw the precipitous decline and destruction of the Catholic faith in Belgium, promotes the sexualization of children is providing expertise on the future of the Catholic family.
One final legacy from the 30 year ‘pastoral leadership’ of Danneels hangs over the Belgian Catholic Church. As a result of the rampant clergy child sex abuse scandal throughout Danneels’ reign, there were 13 suicides of victims of the clergy abuse. Inflicting and ignoring the criminal sexual abuse of children has deadly consequences and destroys families; it’s a nod to sin.
“But because of the choices I made, and the course that I put into action, that little boy isn’t here anymore, and he’ll never be here again. I mean here in the world, not here in Belgium. Well, he’ll never be here in Belgium either, will he?”
The movie, In Bruges
Elizabeth Yore is an international child rights attorney who provided legal and technical assistance to victim families and the government during the Belgian Dutroux pedophile serial killer case. Elizabeth Yore has spent 30 years in legal child advocacy. Recently, she served as Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc. as Oprah Winfrey’s child advocate. Previously, she was General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for 8 years and the General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.