Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
(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.
Apart from the exchanges they reveal, the transcripts are sobering because of the context of the meeting. It took place on April 8, at a time when the series of clerical sexual abuse revelations that began in Ireland the previous year was tearing through Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria like a tornado. Pope Benedict had issued an unprecedented apology to the Irish for the scandals only shortly before. Church leaders all over were vowing to end the Church's culture of secrecy and put the victims' welfare above the defence of the clergy. If there was any time to simply say, "OK, he has to go. We have to report this," this was it.
Are the Belgian judicial authorities gunning for Godfried? It looks like Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the popular grandfatherly Catholic prelate who stepped down in January as archbishop of Brussels-Mechelen after three decades, is the main target of the incredible "tomb raider" sweeps that shocked the Church last Thursday. The police who swooped down on the diocesan headquarters in Mechelen, Danneels's own apartment nearby and the offices of the Church commission on abuse in Leuven did not suspect the cardinal of abuse himself. But it seems the investigating magistrate behind the raid is convinced that Danneels hushed up cases during his long reign.
The media seem to be too -- just take a look at last Saturday's front page of the Brussels daily De Standaard at the right.
Is there anything more holding Belgium together than “the king, the football team and certain beers”– as Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme once said?Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia have their own political parties and their own television stations and newspapers which on any normal day could be reporting on totally separate countries.Tuesday was not one of those such days. Following Leterme’s decision to quit on Monday night, Belgium’s media at least agreed on the top story, even if few could answer the question: what next? The days ahead are likely to lead to growing debate over a central Belgian question: is it worth staying together?Belgium has evolved since 1970 from a unitary state to a federation in five phases of devolution giving regional and linguistic parliaments control over education, culture,transport and housing.The Flemish majority want more, from powers to set their own job creation schemes and to vary rates of tax. French-speakers fear that Belgium will be nothing more than an empty shell and the economic divide between rich Flemish north and their depressed south will widen.Leterme’s Flemish Christian Democrats had promised change, but his failure to broker a deal led to his resignation. Opinion polls are notoriously volatile, but a recent poll of Flemings found that more than 49 percent would welcome the country splitting in two.Even many Flemish who want a united Belgium struggle to say why, often citing the enormous headache that division would cause — how would the national debt be split and what would happen to Brussels, the largely French-speaking capital withinFlanders?During the last political crisis, less than a year ago, the capital Brussels saw a burst of colour as patriotic Belgians hung the national flag from their windows and balconies.French-speakers are mindful of the economic impact of losing their richer northern neighbours, but they too are losing patience.The demands of the two communities could simply be incompatible and the question remains — is Belgium ungovernable and incapable of reform?