Last week, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the retired primate of Belgium and one of the great liberal lions of Catholicism, went to his reward. The liberal Catholic newspaper La Croix remembers him with great appreciation, but this obituary from the Telegraph is far more honest about this contemptible man’s legacy. Excerpts:
His period in office saw an unparalleled decline in the Church’s fortunes, with the influence of the once mighty Belgian Church reduced to insignificance. Danneels was also implicated in the cover-up of child abuse, but despite this he enjoyed the confidence of Pope Francis to the end.
When King Baudouin was presented with a bill to legalise abortion in 1990, he refused to sign it, eventually using a constitutional loophole to avoid doing so, by abdicating for one day. Cardinal Danneels – uniquely for someone who had taken an oath to uphold Church teaching with his blood – had no such scruples and advised the King that he could in good conscience sign.
In 1998 Danneels found himself in court as a witness defending the Church on the charge that it had knowingly covered up the crimes of a paedophile priest. There was worse to come. The Bishop of Bruges was forced to resign in disgrace in 2010 after it became known that he had abused a young man, his own nephew, for 15 years.
The nephew had previously approached Danneels and asked him to sack the bishop, but the Cardinal had not only failed to do so but had tried to get the man to keep silent until the bishop resigned at the end of his tenure. Moreover, he asked the nephew to seek forgiveness and hinted that he, the nephew, was blackmailing the Church.
Unfortunately for Danneels, the nephew had taped their conversation, transcripts of which were later published by the daily newspaper De Standaard. Danneels claimed he was “improvising” in this embarrassing conversation, whatever that meant, but he had demonstrated that despite three decades at the helm, he had no real appreciation of how serious the paedophilia crisis was.
Danneels was part of the so-called “St. Gallen Mafia” of liberal cardinals who met to game the next conclave — the one that elected Francis. Despite the fact that Danneels was caught red-handed in the Vangheluwe cover-up, Francis disgracefully gave him a prime spot on the Church’s Synod on the Family.
From National Catholic Reporter in 2010, this translated transcript of the secretly recorded phone calls between Cardinal Danneels and the abuse victim.
Take a look at this piece from a few years back by Alexandra Colen, a conservative Belgian politician and a practicing Catholic who, back in the late 1990s, appealed to Cardinal Danneels over a revolting children’s catechism. She writes:
… Cardinal Danneels…was very popular with the press in Belgium and abroad, [and] 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 saying: “Stroking my pussy makes me feel groovy,” “I like to take my knickers off with friends,” “I want to be in the room when mum and dad have sex.” The drawing also shows a naked little boy and girl that are “playing doctor” and the little boy says: “Look, my willy is big.”
Here is one of the drawings from the Belgian catechism. The toddler says, “I find it lovely to rub my slit.” “I like to take my pants off with other friends.” “I want to stay in the room when Mama and Papa make love.” “I love peeing.”
More from Colen, describing other drawings:
The drawing also showed three pairs of parents. Those with the “correct” attitude reply: “Yes, feeling and stroking those little places is good fun.” This “catechism textbook” was used in the catechism lessons in the catholic schools, until one day I discovered it among the schoolbooks of my eldest daughter, then 13 years old. On 3 September 1997 I wrote a letter to Cardinal Danneels, saying:
“When I see this drawing and its message, I get the distinct impression that this catechism textbook is designed intentionally to make 13 and 14 year olds believe that toddlers enjoy genital stimulation. In this way one breeds pedophiles that sincerely believe that children actually think that what they are doing to them is ‘groovy’, while the opposite is the case.”
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.
She and other protesting parents did not succeed. Colen withdrew her children from Catholic schools and homeschooled them. Read the whole thing. This Danneels is the creep that Pope Francis brought to Rome to advise the Synod on the Family.
A few years ago, the Australian Catholic theologian Tracey Rowland wrote this lament for Belgian Catholicism. Excerpts:
However, against all this natural beauty and fine works of art, including the artistic works of the pastry chefs and the lace-makers, there is something deeply sinister about this country. Its Catholic culture has been trashed by a couple of generations of intellectuals at war with their own heritage.
I first visited Belgium in 2004 to attend a theology conference in Leuven. The conference Mass was the most bizarre liturgical experience of my life. It did not take place in any of the many churches in Leuven, but in the conference room itself. Part of the ritual took the form of watching a video of the 11 September 2001 attack on the twin towers while listening to mood music. One of the participants from Holland was dressed in a folk costume and looked like a member of The Village People. There was also a Nigerian priest who was treated like an idiot because he expressed respect for Cardinal Arinze. I took some flak for being critical of the culture of modernity and one polite person apologized to me by saying, “You see, around here people think of you as an ally of Joseph Ratzinger”!
My overall impression was that Leuven was like a town that had been hit by a neutron bomb – the kind of bomb that kills people but leaves buildings intact. All the Gothic buildings remained – the outward symbols of a once vibrant Catholic culture were still on view as tourist attractions – but the people who worked within the buildings seemed not to be the original inhabitants, but another people who had moved in after some terrible cataclysm and were ill at ease with what had gone before. Our Lady, the Seat of Wisdom, and Patroness of Leuven, appeared marginalized.
Read it all. It’s stunning. She wants to know how it is that the once most Catholic Belgium had come to embrace child euthanasia.
Although a large majority of Belgians – around three quarters of the population – are nominally Catholic, and a majority (though declining) of children are baptised Catholic every year, observance is extremely low even by Western European standards. The last official statistics showed weekly Mass attendance at a mere 11 per cent, but those figures were published as long ago as 1998. The very fact that the Belgian hierarchy no longer publishes estimates lends support to anecdotal accounts suggesting that observance has fallen markedly since then, even in traditionally devout Flanders. In today’s Belgium, religious observance is mainly the preserve of the elderly, or of the Muslim minority.
That was 2015. Last year, the number of baptisms in Belgium dipped below 50 percent. Excerpts:
Last year, for the first time, the ratio of children being baptised was less than 50 percent. In other words, the majority of the Belgian parents does not want to have the traditional relationship with the Church anymore.
Although religion is not just to be measured with statistics, these figures seem to confirm the diminishing interest of the Belgian population in the Roman Catholic Church. Since 2010, the decline of baptisms has been the sharpest in the Brussels diocese (32%) and in Antwerp (31%). Only in the Ghent area the number of baptisms stays relatively stable, with a decrease of 10%. The figures belong to an ongoing survey of the Belgian Bishops Conference in cooperation with the University of Louvain. The official results are expected to be published later this year. The purpose of the survey is to gain more insight in the religious life of the Belgian Catholics.
In an interview with a national newspaper, Geert De Kerpel, spokesman of the Bishops Conference, admitted the negative results of the survey but did does not see reasons for panicking. “Like any other organisation, we would prefer a growth rather than a decline, but we will not start a promotional campaign”, he said.
Of course not. To sell something, you have to have something to sell. No one will buy faith from the faithless. Congratulations, Cardinal Danneels and your generation of churchmen. Your legacy is to have helped euthanize Christianity in Belgium.