The Boston Globe covers my speech in Rome on the upcoming environmental encyclical. The unholy alliance between the Vatican and the United Nations is troubling on many levels.
“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.
On the flight over to Rome to attend the Pope’s Conference on Human Trafficking last week, I recalled the long running Broadway play and movie, A Funny thing Happened on the Way to Forum, starring the great actor Zero Mostel. This farcical comedy is based on an ancient play set in B. C. Rome, where a slave named Pseudolus tries to negotiate his freedom from his slave owner, Hero. The famous line in the movie goes like this:
Hero, the Slave Owner: “People do not go around freeing slaves every day.”
Pseudolus, the Slave: “Be the first. Start a fashion.”
Ironically, in 2013 A.D., Pope Francis is compelled to call a conference of global experts entitled, “Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery” to address the alarming increase in the trade in human beings as one of the pressing political social and economic problems associated with globalization.
Freeing modern slaves has not yet become fashionable. So much for progress!
Pope Francis specifically requested that the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences convene a working group to study modern forms of slavery, including the trafficking of people for sex and labor, and trafficking of human organs. Francis personally greeted the assembled global anti trafficking experts. Clearly, he understands the tragedy of human trafficking from his days as Cardinal Bergolio of Buenos Aires where there are 60,000 women in 8,000 illegal brothels, and the highest consumption of cocaine in Latin America, with 2.6% of the population being addicted or a consumer of cocaine run by the Mexican and Colombian cartels. The Pontiff challenged the conference participants that “the Church as a whole isn’t sufficiently aware of the problem or hasn’t focused deeply enough on how serious a problem.”
This Pope leads with his heart. He is a man of the poor in the streets of Argentina and around the world. He knows the suffering poor, the disenfranchised, and the enslaved. Modern day slavery is not a distant notion for him. Cardinal Bergolio would often come in the “dead of night to help women escaping violent Buenos Aires brothel owners find shelter.”
Yet no country is free from human trafficking. The rich countries create the demand and the poor countries provide the supply. This heinous crime against humanity knows no political or geographic boundaries, crosses all cultures and defies quantification.
What is the scope of this global problem? Here’s the sad reality: No one really knows. This is a covert crime carried out in the shadows with terrified and silenced victims, so hidden and disguised that they can’t be counted, tracked, and seldom rescued. The best estimates are that nearly 30 million people live in modern slavery across the globe, many of them women and children who are trafficked by organized crime gangs for sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Human trafficking thrives because it is a lucrative trade, generating roughly $32 billion annually and its fungible product is hiding in plain sight. Why is human trafficking becoming more lucrative and desirable than guns and drugs? Guns and drugs can be sniffed out by dogs, and are easily identifiable as contraband. Humans are not. Certainly human trafficking victims do not self identify as victims, because they are coerced, threatened, lied to, beaten into silent submission. Once drugs are sold, they are used and gone. Yet, a woman or child can be sold repeatedly.
Traffickers now have an immediate hotline to contract their illegal business deals, the Internet. With 2 billion people around the world now connected to the Internet, access by criminals is instantaneous. Email orders, message boards, and texts advertise children and women for sex, and deliver them through the Internet marketplace. These criminal organizations operate without impunity because investigations and prosecutions of traffickers are very complex, and sadly, rare. Experts believe that 87% of the trafficking is for sex and the remainder for forced labor. Both venues prey on vulnerable women and children.
Sex Trafficking is a thriving business in the United States. In the U.S., it is estimated that 2 out of the 3 trafficked victims are underage girls. Some 300,000 American children have been forced into sex trafficking, most of them vulnerable children who have run away from foster care and dysfunctional homes.
American citizens also fuel the demand for sex trafficking as child sex tourists. The global anti trafficking NGO, ECPAT estimates that 25% of child sex tourists are from the U.S. and Americans constitute 80% of child sex tourists in Latin America.
The Catholic Church provides the choke points in the supply and demand chain of human trafficking. She is the holy boots on the ground preventing, intervening and rehabilitating human trafficking victims. With the missionary church serving victims in cities, towns and villages around the world, the Church is uniquely situated to provide global leadership on this issue. At the heart of the scourge of human trafficking is the violation of the dignity of the human person.
The prevention work of the Catholic Church, through thousands of lay and religious missionaries ensures the freedom and dignity of the individual. The work of the Catholic Church builds a safety net around potential trafficking victims through its church run schools, charity programs, adoption, and foster care work. Prevention cannot be measured in data. Yet, trafficking is stopped when Catholic faithful labor in the vineyard running schools in the African bush, orphanages in the slums of Calcutta, shelters for Argentinian street prostitutes, and the countless inner city churches and schools. The Church builds a powerful protective firewall of social services which prevent trafficking exploitation of vulnerable people.
The work of the Church is always more effective and lasting because her labor begins and ends with prayer and is grounded in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Canossian Sisters Daughters of Charity attended the Pope’s conference. These Sisters work with trafficking victims in Italy and around the world. They asked Pope Francis for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting against trafficking to raise greater awareness in the Catholic Church about the issue. The Pope was very interested in the suggestion and the Sisters asked him to declare a day of fasting and prayer on February 8th, the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave, who was sold and resold, but found freedom in Italy and became a nun in the late 19th century. St. Bakhita was canonized by John Paul II in 2000. The words of St. Bakhita, remind Catholics of the message of loving service and joyful evangelization which is the recurring theme of Pope Francis:
“The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone… we must be compassionate!”
It’s time for all of us to start loving and noticing the victims hiding in plain sight.
Elizabeth Yore has spent 30 years in legal child advocacy and fighting human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. 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 in Virginia.