Retired cardinal in Belgium admits requesting silence from sex abuse victim
The former head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church acknowledged Monday that he was wrong to have urged a sexual abuse victim to stay quiet until after the bishop who repeatedly molested him over a span of 13 years could retire.
The statement by Cardinal Godfried Danneels came after transcripts of secret tapes of a meeting between him and the now-grown victim were published over the weekend in two newspapers, causing an outcry in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
“The whole approach … was not the right one,” Danneels’ spokesman, Toon Osaer, told the Associated Press on Monday.
Osaer quoted the cardinal as saying he had “been naive” and unprepared when he met the man last April to discuss the situation. The cleric’s suggestions for dealing with the matter were “improvisation,” Osaer said.
The uproar has added fuel to the ongoing sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Europe and bolstered accusations that leaders have been more concerned about maintaining the church’s reputation and silencing victims than solving the problem of clergy misconduct.
The victim in this case, who has not been named, was molested as a boy from 1973 to 1986 by his uncle, Roger Vangheluwe, a priest who became bishop of Bruges during that time. Vangheluwe has admitted to the abuse and he stepped down from his post shortly after the April 8 meeting between his nephew and Danneels.
By the time of that meeting, Danneels had been retired for three months as head of the church in Belgium. But Vangheluwe urged the cardinal to speak to his nephew, and Danneels agreed.
The conversation was recorded by the nephew without Danneels’ knowledge. The cardinal has said that he regrets the man’s decision to make their exchange public, but he does not dispute the authenticity of the conversation as reported over the weekend.
During the meeting, Danneels advised the man not to “make a lot of noise” about the abuse he suffered from his uncle, because Vangheluwe was scheduled to retire in a year anyway.
“It would be better that you wait,” Danneels said. He also urged the man to forgive his uncle.
Osaer, the cardinal’s spokesman, denied that Danneels intended that to be the end of the matter.
“It is not correct to say that Danneels implied, ‘Let’s give forgiveness and that’s it,’ ” Osaer told the AP.
The scandal is the latest to envelop the church in Belgium, which is already the subject of a police investigation into allegations of abuse and of cover-ups by church leaders.