What would it take to force The New York Times to criticize the career of a liberal Catholic who backed the modernization of Catholic teachings on many topics close to the hearts of the Gray Lady’s editors?
To answer that question, take a look at the recent Times obituary for the highly influential Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium.
Readers can start, of course, with the headline: “Godfried Danneels, Liberal Cardinal Tainted by Sex Scandal, Dies at 85.” That pretty much sums up the obituary as a whole. This cardinal was a liberal, but he was also a liberal with a connection to The Scandal. That’s bad.
The key to this obituary — no surprise — is what it does not include, especially the voices of Catholics who criticized his efforts to liberalize church doctrines on sexuality. For example, they criticized church sex-education materials about children, sex and pedophilia. Hold that thought. Here is the Times overture:
ROME — Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium, a liberal supporter of Pope Francis and a former Vatican adviser whose long pastoral career was damaged in a sex-abuse scandal after his retirement, died on March 14 at his home in Mechelen, north of Brussels. He was 85. …
Cardinal Danneels, who spoke several languages, was considered a progressive in Roman Catholic leadership, supporting a greater role for women in the church and a less rigid policy against contraception. He believed that H.I.V.-positive people should be able to use condoms rather than risk transmitting the virus.
Years before Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by retiring in 2013, Cardinal Danneels had raised the possibility of popes retiring in advanced age or when their health deteriorated. He was a target of conservative critics in his 29 years as president of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference. They complained that he had not done enough to thwart growing secularization in Belgium, whose government has approved same-sex marriage, in vitro fertilization, euthanasia and experiments on human embryos.
Then there is the scandal, itself. The Times — to its credit — puts some damning details right at the top of this report.
Cardinal Danneels’s reputation was badly hurt shortly after he retired in 2010, when Belgian newspapers released recordings of a secretly taped conversation in which he was heard urging a victim of serial sexual abuse by a bishop to say nothing about it for a year, until the bishop — the victim’s own uncle — could retire. The bishop was Roger Vangheluwe, who was 73 at the time.
On the tapes, which church authorities confirmed were accurate, Cardinal Danneels told the victim: “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.” The cardinal was then heard warning the man against trying to blackmail the church and suggested that he accept a private apology from the bishop and not drag “his name through the mud.”
Remember that name: Bishop Roger Vangheluwe. He is linked to some crucial information that is missing from this piece.
The rest of the obituary is pretty standard stuff, with most of the information focusing on Danneel’s connections — good and bad — to the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal. The obituary mentions the cardinal’s ties to Pope Francis, but does not mention that he stayed in the good graces of Pope Francis until the very end — including a prime role in the 2015 Synod on the Family, which included heated debates on Catholic doctrines linked to sex and marriage.
Near the end, there is this mild material:
After Benedict’s retirement, Cardinal Danneels was an active supporter of Pope Francis, whose election he had long favored.
“Years before the last conclave, he told me that the church needed a Francis as head of the church,” Geert De Kerpel, spokesman of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, said in a phone interview. …
In a telegram of condolence, Francis called Cardinal Danneels a “zealous pastor” who had been “attentive to the challenges of the contemporary Church.”
Actually, Danneels was part of the so-called “St. Gallen Mafia,” a circle of cardinals that worked behind the scenes to elect Pope Francis. This group also included Theodore McCarrick, according a public address by “Uncle Ted” in 2013.
It also helps to know that the cardinal’s critics did far more than attack his failure to “thwart growing secularization in Belgium.”
Like what? Readers who want to know more should check out two posts by Rod “Benedict Option” Dreher — “Cdl Danneels, Euthanizer Of Belgian Catholicism” and “The Decadence Of Godfried Danneels.” There is strong, even stomach-churning, material here. Take, for example, an article by a conservative Belgian politico named Alexandra Colen, a Catholic who protested the contents of a catechism prepared for use by children. Dreher noted this section:
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.”
The illustration for that material is rather chilling.
There’s more, via Colen, about another illustration:
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.” …
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.
More? The following is from an article reproduced in the Dreher post. It was published in 1984 in Kerk en Leven , an official magazine of the Catholic Church in Flanders. Translated, it states:
A few years ago, an ecumenical working group on paedophilia was established in Flanders. This working group, made up of Catholics and Protestants, aims to make the Churches aware of the phenomenon of paedophilia, to pass on information and to remove prejudices. The working group also wants to inform itself about everything that appears in the field of paedophilia. All are welcome who want to get to know paedophilia and paedophiles better, provided this is done in openness, respect and reliability.
Dreher notes that the ecumenical group met in a chapel, with priests and pastors serving as facilitators. Other advice from this “working group” on the topic of adult-child sex.
* If your son or daughter feels the connection with the paedophile is fine, do not break that connection;
* The reaction of the environment is often more harmful than the events themselves; …
* It is preferable that a relationship of trust be established between the paedophile in the parents.
Was Danneels connected to this group? Apparently not. Did he agree with the critic that these materials should be taken out of circulation with children and parents? Apparently not.
Did the cardinal remain a strong supporter of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe? Apparently so.
Were the official, printed church efforts in Flanders to “remove prejudices” linked to the “phenomenon of paedophilia” information that could have been included in the Times obituary, featuring on-the-record material gained from critics of the cardinal? Would this have added another layer of information to the coverage of Danneels and his defense of Vangheluwe? Did Times people talk to any critics of Danneels?
FIRST IMAGE: Pope Francis greets his people for the first time. Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium is on the right, in the shadows.