A Catholic theologian friend passes along this shocking report from the traditionalist Catholic blog Rorate Caeli, on how the Vatican has appointed a real thug of a cardinal to the upcoming Synod on the Family:

Which, of course, brings to mind the very presence of Danneels, the emeritus of Mechlin-Brussels: Danneels was directly responsible for the abuse of the spirit of Catholic children in Belgium during decades, against the crying pleas of Belgian parents (shocking report), and was naturally quite happy to support “homosexual marriage” just last year. And yet he is a pontifical appointee (the second in the list of pontifical appointees) of a Synod on the Family, when his only family expertise is on the destruction of children, marriage, and family.

It’s not always that an abuser-protector is caught on tape, but that happened to Danneels in 2010, when the case of his major protégé, the man he had most wanted as his successor as the Primate of Belgium, Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges, was about to be exposed. Vangheluwe was the typical Danneels-bishop, and, unsurprisingly, he had a past filled with abuse — and not just any kind of abuse, but that of his own nephew, during 13 years in the post-Conciliar years. (By the way, Danneels’ new favorite pupil, Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, is angling for Mechlin-Brussels as well, even going to the lengths of making a personal letter on the Synod available in several languages.)

After Danneels had been replaced at the helm of the Belgian Church by a serious prelate, Archbishop Léonard, the latter made a strong speech on the shame of child abuse by priests, and the need for victims to end their silence. Encouraged by this message, four days after Léonard’s brave speech, the Vangheluwe family was led to believe they would meet Léonard, who might encourage them. Instead, they were tricked into meeting Danneels, who tried to coerce them into keeping silence to protect his favorite pupil.

What Danneels didn’t know was that the meeting, on April 8, 2010, was being taped, and Flemish paper De Standaard would publish the dialogue soon afterwards.

Go to the Rorate Caeli link to read the transcript. It’s what you would expect: pity and admiration for the abusing bishop, expressed in front of the victim and his family. Rorate Caeli remarks:

[Cardinal Danneels] is a one-man symbol of all that is wrong and wicked with the Hierarchy, the epitome of the worst meaning of the word “clericalism”, the opposite of anything that could represent authentic reform and restoration — a man who abused the spirit and annihilated Belgian Catholic families, and protected those who abused the bodies of children, a man who after leading Catholicism in his country into the ground should have been relegated to degradation and penance for the rest of his life yet still receives papal honor to influence a Synod on the Family!

Preach it. As far as Danneels is concerned, this is a Corleone Family Synod.

This is not just a Catholic problem. Yesterday I was having an e-mail exchange with a man who has become involved in religious education in his church, which belongs to a Mainline Protestant denomination. He had written to me because he had read some of the things I’d said about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. He explained that MTD is the rule in his congregation, which is fairly conservative in its temperament. He said that the ethos there is characterized by a worship of the community as community, and a strong resistance to anything that rocks the boat. The man said that he can see that the teenagers in his congregation are getting very little in terms of real teaching about what Christians believe, and what their denomination teaches. The thing is, he said, all the adults are happy with this. They want everything to be untroubling and safe, to go along with things as they always have been, even though the substance of the faith is being hollowed out, and with it the authority of the Bible, and the moral authority of the church as a community of believers.

This is not happening in a liberal congregation. This is happening in a conservative one. This is not being imposed by the clergy and the church leadership. It is supported — it is expected — by the congregation. The man said that he sadly concluded that many in his congregation care more about the building and the outward forms of the church than they do about the inner substance. And you watch: ten, twenty years from now, these folks are going to be bereft because their children grew up and walked away from the faith. How did this happen? they will wonder.

We see this dynamic in the Cardinal Danneels appointment. We see it in all churches. If we who believe don’t take our own teachings seriously, why should anybody else?

UPDATE: To clarify, my point is that when the church becomes about itself, about maintaining its own structures (social and material) as its primary goal (as distinct from secondary goals), and not its mission of conversion, it ceases to matter.