This past week, Belgian police raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Belgian, as well as the home and office of recently retired Archbishop Godfried Danneels, during an investigation into the sexual abuse of children.
Rorate Caeli provides the full text of Pope Benedict’s letter to Abp. André Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels and President of the Belgian Episcopal Conference, responding to the unfortunate series of events:
I wish to express to you, dear Brother in the Episcopate, as well as to all Bishops of Belgium, my closeness and my solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out in Mechlin Cathedral and in places where the Belgian Episcopate were assembled in plenary session. During that meeting, aspects related to the abuse of minors by members of the clergy were to have been treated, among other things. I have myself repeated numerous times that these grave facts should be treated by the civil order and by the canonical order in reciprocal respect for the specificity and autonomy of each one. In this sense, I wish that justice will follow its course, ensuring the rights of persons and institutions, in respect for victims, with the recognition, without prejudices, of those who wish to collaborate with it and with the refusal of everything that could darken the noble duties that are ascribed to it.
As Rorate Caeli notes, there is a “one-sideness” and “tone-deafness” to the papal remarks. The impression is exacerbated by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who characterized the Belgian police’s raid as “a kidnapping, a grave and inconceivable fact”, having “no precedent even in communist regimes.”
However, a report from the Flemish De Standard casts light on the investigation of the tombs. English translation via Google, so pardon the choppiness (HT again: Rorate Caeli):
“There are traces of tampering can be seen around the tomb of Cardinal Leo Suenens. Maybe that aroused the attention of police. Suenens was buried in 1996. The cardinal should nevertheless very prescient than to have hidden files. ”
Local television to watch the officers walked inside the cathedral Thursday with crowbar and hammer drill. That fueled rumors that they broke open tombs in the crypt. The Vatican yesterday expressed outrage at the “desecration by the Belgian judicial authorities.”
“Well, desecration,” says the guide. ‘Investigators have two holes drilled in the wall that separates the two burial niches in the outside world. Behind it are a dozen boxes. Through those holes, they looked around with a camera, but found nothing. Can you call that sacrilege? Maybe they also want to break into boxes. But when you consider who it is, do you think twice[?]“
Meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter translates a La Stampa interview with Fr. Rik Devillè, a retired Belgian priest and anti-pedophilia crusader:
The Belgian church instituted its own commission to investigate charges of abuse, the Adriaenssens Commission. Is that not enough?
The problem was its connection with the Archdiocese, and the absence of either a lay component internally or a connection with the civil authorities. I always hoped that a truly independent commission would be formed, an organism whose objective was to help justice take its course. That must be the way. It’s not up to the church to decide who violated the law and who should be punished.
Do you believe that Belgium is a special case? Or is the plague of sexual abuse by clergy a common evil?
It happens everywhere, believe me. Belgium believed itself to be an exception because no case ever came to light. Yet as early as 1994, I had collected 82 accusations. The victims wanted to be heard by the church, they wanted to break the curse. It’s been useless, at least up to now.
You have said that you spoke with Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the former primate of the Belgian church, but he says he doesn’t remember.
I spoke with him about my files on two occasions, in the first half of the 1990s. I advised him of the problem, and I don’t know what he did afterwards. On one occasion, however, I remember that the cardinal became angry. He said this wasn’t my job and that I should stay out of it.
Do you think he said that to hide something?
The bishops have a long history over their shoulders of silence and omissions. They protect the guilty, and not the victims.
The conservative blog Brussels Journal has a must-read account by Alexandra Colen, homeschooling mother and Member of the Belgian Parliament for Antwerp, on Catholic life during the reign of Cardinal Danneels:
Since the revelation in April that Cardinal Danneels’s close friend and collaborator, Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, had been a practicing pedophile throughout, and even before, his career as a bishop, victims have gained confidence that they will be taken seriously, and complaints have been pouring in, both to the courts and to the extra-judicial investigation committee of the archdiocese. The new archbishop Mgr. André-Joseph Léonard, has urged victims to take their case to the courts.
His predecessor, the liberal Cardinal Danneels, who was very popular with the press in Belgium and abroad, was Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium from 1979 until 2010. The sympathy for pedophile attitudes and arguments among the Belgian bishops during this period was no secret, especially since 1997 when the fierce controversy about the catechism textbook Roeach made the headlines. The editors of Roeach were Prof. Jef Bulckens of the Catholic University of Leuven and Prof. Frans Lefevre of the Seminary of Bruges. The textbook contained a drawing which showed a naked baby girl [which describes the genital stimulation of toddlers as “good fun”].
I told Cardinal Danneels that, although I was a member of Parliament for the Flemish-secessionist party Vlaams Blok, I was addressing him as a Catholic parent “who wishes to remain faithful to the papal authority and also wishes to educate her children this way.” I insisted that he forbid the use of this book in the catechism lessons: “This is why I insist – yes, the days of meekly asking are over – that you forbid the use of this ‘catechism book’ in our children’s classrooms.”
Today this case, that dates from 12 years ago, assumes a new and ominous significance. Especially now that I know that Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the pedophile child molesting Bishop of Bruges, was the supervising bishop of both institutions – the Catholic University of Leuven and the Seminary of Bruges – whence came the editors in chief of this perverted “catechism” textbook.
Monsignor Vangheluwe not only entertained pedophile ideas, but also practiced them on his 11-year old nephew. Hundreds of children who were not raped physically were molested spiritually during the catechism lessons.
After I started my campaign against the Roeach textbook, many parents contacted me to voice their concerns. Stories of other practices in the Catholic education system poured in. There were schools where children were taught to put condoms over artificial penises and where they had to watch videos showing techniques of masturbation and copulation.
Because Cardinal Danneels refused to respond to requests to put an end to these practices, I and hundreds of concerned parents gathered in front of his palace on 15 October 1997. We carried placards with the text “Respect for parents and children,” and we said the rosary. Cardinal Danneels refused to receive a delegation of the demonstrators. “I shall not be pressured,” he said in the libertine magazine Humo on 21 October 1997. The Archbishop’s door remained closed …
Those expressing frustration over the impertinence of the Belgian police’s raid are encouraged to read the accounts of Alexandra Colen and Fr. Rik Devillè.
Finally, Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae) asks the question:
Cardinal Danneels was, himself, enabled to enable the problems for three decades. What makes it so astonishing is that … the problems were public knowledge for much of that time. So how did he get away with it?