FaithWorld

Former Belgian Catholic leader Danneels says not responsible for abuse

danneels (Photo: Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels at a parliamentary committee hearing on child sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church, in Brussels December 21, 2010./Francois Lenoir)

Belgium’s former top Roman Catholic bishop told a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday into the sexual abuse of children by clerics that he was not responsible for other Belgian bishops.

Belgium’s lower house set up the inquiry to examine an issue that has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide and resulted in hundreds of victims coming forward. Widespread sexual abuse of minors by Belgian clerics drove at least 13 victims to suicide, a Church commission said in September, recording 475 cases.

Tape recordings released in Belgium this summer made it clear that Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who until January was archbishop of Brussels and head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, was aware of abuse by Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe but had discouraged immediate public statements by the victim.

“I cannot give orders to other bishops. I have no legal authority over other bishoprics and I think that is at the base of a lot of the problems that have been mentioned here,” Danneels told the inquiry on Tuesday. He denied any effort to hush up cases of abuse.

Some MPs were disappointed with his four-hour testimony. “Cardinal Danneels missed an opportunity to improve his image,” said Green deputy Stefaan Van Hecke.

Confusion reigns as Belgium struggles with Catholic sex abuse scandal

shipFollowing the crisis of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Belgium is like watching a rudderless ship in a storm. The Church hierarchy seems overwhelmed by the scandal that has engulfed it. The state seems unable to intervene after its spectacular raid on Church offices last June backfired on it. Left hanging are at least 475 victims who have no idea what to expect next. (Image: A Dutch Ship in a Storm by Flemish artist Matthieu van Plattenberg, National Maritime Museum, London)

The latest installment in this confusing drama came on Tuesday when Bishop Guy Harpigny, the bishops’ conference spokesman for abuse issues, confessed in two morning radio interviews that the Church botched a news conference on Monday by not issuing a full apology to victims. But — as my colleague Phil Blenkinsop reported in our story today — he admitted it was afraid to do so because that could bring on a wave of compensation demands.

“If we say ‘mea culpa,’ then we are morally responsible, legally responsible, and then people come wanting money. We don’t know what the lawyers and the courts will do with that,” he told the Flemish-language Radio 1. “We are afraid. Who will ask — the victims, the courts or someone else? That’s why we are so careful.” A bit later in the interview, he admitted: “The news conference yesterday was a missed chance for a ‘mea culpa’. Maybe the church was too concerned with itself.”

Belgian Cardinal Danneels admits making mistakes in sex abuse case

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.

Leaked Danneels tapes with Catholic sex abuse victim make for sad reading

danneels (Photo: Cardinal Danneels arrives at federal police headquarters in Brussels July 6, 2010 for questions about  allegations of sexual abuse by priests/Stringer)

“Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me?” — Victim of sexual abuse by a Belgian bishop to Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

The transcripts of two meetings between Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and a man sexually abused by the disgraced former bishop of Bruges make for sad reading indeed. Two Flemish-language newspapers, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, published the texts on Saturday after the victim provided them with his secret recordings of the sessions.  My analysis of the case is here.