What Francis Does vs. What He Says
Pope Francis today asked for forgiveness for scandals that have taken place in the Church, the Vatican and also in the city of Rome.
Before beginning his catechesis at his weekly general audience, in which he underlined the need to remain loyal to the promises we give to our children, the Holy Father said:
“In the name of the Church, I would like to ask you for forgiveness for the scandals that have happened in these recent times, whether in Rome or in the Vatican, for which I ask forgiveness.”
Speaking much, much louder than Pope Francis’s words is his granting of the prominent place of Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels in the Synod on the Family now underway in Rome.
There is no charitable way to read this. In 2010, a secret recording of a meeting Danneels had with Bishop Roger Vangheluwe and the bishop’s 42-year-old nephew, whom he had molested throughout virtually his entire childhood, was made public. The man told the cardinal that he needed help. Excerpts from a Reuters story of the time:
What do you really want?” asks Danneels, cutting the victim off by saying he already knows the story and doesn’t need to hear it again. When the man says “I give you the responsibility, I can’t decide … you should do what you think should be done, because I don’t know how this whole system works.”
“Do you want this to be made public?” the cardinal asks. “I leave that to you,” the victim responds. Then Danneels begins his effort to convince him to keep the lid on the problem: “The bishop will step down next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait.”
“No, I can’t agree that he takes his leave in glory, I can’t do that,” the victim replies.
The transcript is too long for me to translate all of it here and the only English version I’ve seen is too rough to be recommended. In any case, the exchange only gets worse. At one point, Danneels ducks and weaves trying to fend off the victim’s pleas to inform the Church hierarchy about Vangheluwe’s misdeeds. He says he has no authority over the bishop, only the pope does. When the victim suggests Danneels arrange a meeting with the pope, the cardinal gives the flip reply: “The pope isn’t that easy to reach.” A little later, he says: “I don’t think you’d do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops.”
At another point, Danneels suggests the victim admit his guilt and ask for forgiveness. “Who do I have to ask forgiveness from?” the surprised man asks. When the cardinal remarks that going public would put the bishop in a quandary, the victim replies: “I’ve been living my whole life in a quandary … I was brought up Catholic. I see the institution is wavering, I read the newspapers and so I think I have a duty to do this. How can I get my children to believe something that has such a background? I can’t. That’s just always shoving it onto the next generation. And everything stays the same. That’s not what the Church is for.”
When Danneels suggests the victim may be trying to blackmail the Church, the man pleads with him to take up this case, saying there has to be someone in the Church who can handle it because he cannot bring himself to expose his uncle on his own. “We were forced to get married by him, our children were baptised by him, how can I explain this to them?” he asked. “Yesterday I said to my oldest son, look, this is what happened to me. They must know what has happened.”
The exchange goes on with Danneels repeatedly arguing he has no power to do anything and that the whole story would come out if Vangheluwe were forced to resign. That’s when the victim asked: “Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me? … You’re always trying to defend him. I thought I was going to get some support, but I have to sit here and defend myself against things I can’t do anything about.”
There’s more, but you get the drift. I apologize for the long quote, but it’s important to read the details here, to get a sense of how morally repulsive the Belgian cardinal’s actions are. This is the kind of man Pope Francis chose as a Synod on the Family father.
There are other reasons why the wicked Danneels, who the retired archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, has no business at a Synod on the Family (read about them here). But his behavior in the Vangheluwe case is the most outrageous. Pope Francis can apologize all he wants to the victims, but his favoring of Danneels, who by his own account helped engineer Francis’s accession to the papal throne via his “mafia club,” speaks louder, and more definitively.
This Danneels scandal was widely reported at the time. There is no way that Francis didn’t know about it before he appointed this elderly cretin to the Synod. If this Pope really understood what the abuse scandal has done to victims and their families, and to the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church and its leadership, the thought of appointing Danneels to the Synod on the Family — the Family! — would have been unthinkable.
It is always, always, always more important to watch what popes and bishops do about sex abuse rather than to listen to what they say. Talk is cheap grace.