|Ex-Head of Belgian Catholic Church: 'All Too Often' Damage Control Key in Discussing Abuse
The Associated Press
September 8, 2010
BRUSSELS — The former head of Belgium's Roman Catholic Church acknowledged that "all too often" damage control took precedence over the concern for victims in sexual abuse cases involving clergy.
Retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels also told Wednesday's edition of Knack magazine he should have asked a bishop guilty of sexual abuse to resign immediately instead of suggesting to the victim that he agree to a cover up until the offending bishop retired.
In his first interview since the leaking of secret tapes of a conversation between Danneels and the victim in which he suggested to keep the abuse secret, Danneels said the damage done to the authority of the church by the bishop's abuse scandal was "indeed enormous."
Since the tapes' publication two weeks ago, Danneels, 77, has faced fierce criticism for his suggestion that, beyond pledging secrecy, the victim should consider forgiving the bishop, his uncle, as part of seeking closure.
"I did not ask for his resignation," Danneels said. "It is my biggest error in judgment."
Two weeks after the April 8 conversation, 73-year-old Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, of Bruges, resigned, expressing sorrow for having long abused his nephew, both as a priest and after becoming a bishop more than 20 years ago.
Danneels said he only knew a few days before the meeting of the bishop's abuse, which ended more than two decades ago. "Now I realize I should have asked Vangheluwe immediately to resign," he said.
In the conversation that the victim secretly taped, Danneels said: "In fact, the monsignor steps down next year. It would be better that you wait" to go public. He then suggested measures about how to keep it quiet before Vangheluwe's scheduled departure in 2011.
The scandal has had a huge impact on the Belgian church and has again highlighted the issue of sex abuse, which has undermined the credibility of the church in many Western nations.
"It is true that in the past, all too often, there was damage control. Sexual abuse was kept quiet and one thought that the problem could be solved by appointing the clergy in question someplace else," Danneels said. "It happened all too often."
Those attempts at damage control have now come back with a vengeance, to the extent that it undermines the credibility of the institution.
"The damage is indeed enormous," Danneels said of the scandal.
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