Church Abuse Scandal Flares up As Victim Releases Tapes

September 2, 2010

According to secretly-recorded tapes made public, a former leader of Belgium's Catholic church advised a victim of sexual abuse to remain silent until after the retirement of the perpetrator, who was both the victim's uncle and the Bishop of Bruges.

The first of the two tapes, both of which were made public last weekend in the Flemish dailies De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, is of a conversation on 08 April 2010 between three people: the victim, whose name has not been made public; Robert Joseph Vangheluwe, 73, the former bishop of Bruges; and Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 77, the former archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. Church authorities have verified the tapes' authenticity.

On the first tape, the victim is encouraged to either accept a private apology and remain silent, or to wait until Vangheluwe's retirement in 2011. "The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait. I don't think you'd do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops," said the cardinal, adding later in the conversation, "I don't know whether it would be to your advantage to make a lot of noise about it. Neither for you, nor for him."

Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, photographed in 2007.

When the cardinal warned the victim against blackmailing the church and dragging Vangheluwe's name "through the mud," the victim replied, "He has dragged my whole life through the mud, from age 5 until 18. Why do you feel sorry for him and not for me?"

Vangheluwe's retirement did not wait until 2011. About two weeks after the meeting, after a friend of the victim threatened to make the case pubic, the bishop resigned on 23 April, admitting he had sexually abused "a boy in my entourage" two decades earlier. Despite his admission, according to a Reuters article, Vangheluwe will face prosecution because "the statute of limitations on [his] misdeeds has run out." The Vatican accepted Vangheluwe's resignation in June, but said nothing publicly before Belgian police raided church properties on 24 June.

The tapes were made four months after the resignation of Cardinal Danneels, who left his post in January. At the recorded meeting, the victim protested Danneels' presence, saying he expected the current archbishop to be there.

Father Rik Deville, an advocate for victims of abuse by priests, 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 was reported in The New York Times. Father Deville was one of the founders of the organization droits de l'homme dans l'Eglise (Human Rights in the Church), which assisted more than 300 young victims of priest pedophilia between 1992 and 1998.

According to a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, Cardinal Danneels' replacement, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, plans to implement a new initiative to address the sexual abuse scandal in September.

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