The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Monday, August 30, 2010
Pope must act on bishop who covered up admitted crimes, SNAP says
Statement by Barbara Dorris Outreach Director [email protected] 314 862 7688
The ball is now squarely in the court of 10 people.
Belgian Catholic officials now confirm that, just four months ago, Belgian Cardinal G Danneels a man once considered to be a likely candidate for Pope, tried to cover up admitted clergy child sex abuse, by urging a victim to stay silent. What’s worse is that Danneels did this even though the acknowledged predator was still in active ministry around kids and able to molest others.
Nine Belgian bishops, especially Danneels' successor Archbishop André-Mutien Léonard, should now publicly urge the Pope to discipline Danneels. If they don't, they are essentially endorsing Danneels' irresponsible, callous and hurtful actions. Staying silent about child sex cover ups is just as harmful as engaging in child sex cover ups.
The victim was smart for tape recording the meeting. We strongly urge victims to never meet alone with church officials. (Church officials almost never meet alone with victims.) In several instances, after a victim or advocate has met alone with church officials, those church officials claim money was extorted or threats were made. It's inherently dangerous and unwise for victims to meet alone with any church officials about abuse.
The notion that Danneels was somehow "naive" or "unprepared" for the meeting is absurd. We strongly suspect that Danneels has had dozens of such meetings over his 32 years as a bishop. For almost 29 years, Danneels headed the Belgian Bishops Conference. In that role, we strongly suspect he helped set the tone and direction of how church officials all across the country deal with child sex abuse reporters.
Two months ago, Pope Benedict pledged to “do everything possible” to prevent future child sex crimes by clergy. Here’s his opportunity to take effective action to deter future crimes and cover ups. He can do what top church officials have done for decades, and do nothing about the admitted misdeeds of a bishop. Or he can chart a new course, and use his power to discipline this bishop. If he does nothing, he sends a strong signal that concealing known child sex crimes is still OK in the church. It’s as simple as that.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, [email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, [email protected])
Belgian Church Leader Urged Victim to Be Silent
PARIS — The former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium urged a victim of serial sexual abuse by a bishop to keep silent for a year, until the bishop — the victim’s own uncle — could retire, according to tapes made by the victim last April and published over the weekend in two Belgian newspapers.
The tapes, which church authorities have verified as accurate, are among the more revealing documents in the continuing scandal of sexual abuse by clerics and subsequent cover-ups by the church. And having a record of a cardinal entreating an abuse victim to keep his silence is another embarrassment for the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 77, who retired as the archbishop of Brussels in January after 30 years, met with the victim, now 42, and his uncle, Bishop Robert Vangheluwe, 73, on April 8 to press the victim either to accept a private apology or to wait until the bishop retired, according to the tapes.
“The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait,” the cardinal told the victim. “I don’t think you’d do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops.” The cardinal warned the victim against trying to blackmail the church and suggested that he accept a private apology from the bishop and not drag “his name through the mud.”
The victim responded, “He has dragged my whole life through the mud, from 5 until 18 years old,” and asked, “Why do you feel sorry for him and not for me?”
The fact of the April meeting was reported by The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times in July after an interview with the victim, who said he had sought for many years to alert the church about the molesting by his uncle. He did not mention then that he had made a tape of that meeting and another one of another meeting.
The tapes, which were published Saturday in the Flemish daily newspapers De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, display the tactics the church used to try to hush up the scandal and placate the victim by appealing to his feelings for his family and the larger church.
De Standaard said in an editorial that the cardinal’s “only aim is to avoid having the case made public so many years after the facts,” adding, “It is containment, nothing more.”
The Belgian cases are special in part because of an extensive police inquiry, not just an investigation by the church, into allegations of sexual abuse by the clergy and subsequent cover-ups.
Cardinal Danneels has been subject to at least 10 hours of police questioning in the matter, and the police raided church headquarters to seize documents, a raid criticized by the Vatican.
In the end, Bishop Vangheluwe retired within two weeks of the April meeting, on April 23, admitting he sexually abused “a boy in my entourage” 20 years earlier. He quit after a friend of the nephew e-mailed Belgian bishops threatening to expose the bishop and demanding his resignation.
In a second tape, of the other meeting, the bishop apologizes to his nephew and says he has tried for years to make up for his sin. “This is unsolvable,” the victim said. “You’ve torn our family completely apart.”
The victim told the newspapers he released the tapes, apparently made secretly, to prove that he had not demanded hush money.
A spokesman for the cardinal, Toon Osaer, said no attempt had been made to cover up the meeting itself. Tribune reporters were told in July that the family was angry because Cardinal Danneels accompanied the bishop to the April meeting, and not the new head of the Belgian church, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard.
A retired priest, the Rev. Rik Devillé, said he tried to warn Cardinal Danneels about the bishop’s abuse of his nephew 14 years ago, but was berated by the cardinal for doing so.
It is not known whether Cardinal Danneels or others informed the Vatican when they learned of the abuse by Bishop Vangheluwe. The Vatican accepted the bishop’s resignation in June, but said nothing about the case until the Belgian police raided church properties on June 24, seizing evidence and files that the church had assembled in its own belated investigation of sexual abuse. Pope Benedict XVI at the time called the police actions “deplorable.”
Bishop Vangheluwe has retreated to a Trappist monastery where he has kept his silence. The Belgian police are investigating him in this case and others, as well as looking into charges that he concealed similar complaints of abuse made against other clerics.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests