Belgian Cardinal Danneels admits making mistakes in sex abuse case

September 8, 2010

danneels newsconfThe former head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church,  Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has admitted he made mistakes in dealing with a case of sexual abuse and should have demanded the resignation of the bishop involved.

In interviews published in the newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws and La Libre Belgique and the weekly magazine Knack on Wednesday,  he described his failure to urge former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe to go as his “most serious error of judgement.”

(Photo: Danneels at news conference on January 18, 2010/Timothy Seren)

Vangheluwe resigned at the end of April after admitting he had sexually abused a nephew, the first such known case of high-level abuse in the Catholic church in Belgium. However, Danneels suggested to the victim during a meeting earlier in April that it would be better to keep quiet, with the bishop due to retire in 2011, according to transcripts of the meeting published last month.

Danneels said in Wednesday’s interview that he had tried to establish why the family had kept quiet for almost 25 years and had never been to the police, and he denied mentioning the bishop’s impending retirement to influence the relatives.

“I never wanted to suggest that it should not be made public,” Danneels said. “Up until today I have the feeling that I had stepped into a trap. Call it naivete. You can make all sorts of assumptions about the intentions of Roger Vangheluwe. But the error of assessment was mine.”

Read the full story here.

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Today, September 9, the Court of Appeals of Brussels has rendered a judgment with respect to the police raid in the St. Rumbold’s Cathedral and the archdiocese of Mechelen – Brussels. The Court held that the spectacular seizures on June 24 in the offices of the Archdiocese and the residence of former archbishop Cardinal Godfried Danneels in Mechelen were irregular, and therefor illegal, that all documents and objects seized should be returned and that all acts based on material that was illegally seized should be declared null and void. The Court considered that the investigators acted without possessing specific indications of a violation of criminal law by the Archdiocese or Cardinal Danneels and in fact carried out an illegitimate and illegal fishing expedition.
Mgr. André – Joseph Léonard, the archbishop of Mechlin, hopes this verdict will allow the Belgian Church to direct its full attention to those who have been victims of sexual abuse in a pastoral relationship and who deserve proper recognition and support.
The Belgian Bishops deeply regret the substantial and partially irreparable damage incurred as a result of the illegal actions of some in the justice system. The raids and seizures have breached the confidence of victims of sexual abuse and tarnished the reputation of both the Church and the Belgian justice system.
The Church welcomes and fully supports the judicial investigation and prosecution of child abusers. Such investigations should however always be focused and carried out in a correct legal manner, which, as the Court now confirmed, has not been the case up to present.
By vigorously insisting that brutal force should not replace the principles of law, the Church is not attempting to prevent an investigation, but is contributing to the preservation of fundamental principles which exist to protect those in a position of weakness.
The Bishops hope that the judgment of the Court of Appeals will help to restore confidence among all parties in this matter.

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