Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Belgian Cardinal Accused of Ignoring Abuse Reports

One of Europe's most respected clerics was accused over the weekend of ignoring reports of sexual abuse by the bishop of Bruges, who resigned last week over the scandal.

Belgium's Godfried Danneels, a retired cardinal who was once a contender for the papacy, was allegedly informed in the 1990s that Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, now 73, had molested a young man.

Monsignor Vangheluwe admitted to the abuse last week, and Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation Friday.

The Dutch-language daily De Standaard reported on Friday that two former priests had personally informed Cardinal Danneels, 77, about Bishop Vangheluwe's abuse several times between the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

In a news conference Saturday, Cardinal Danneels rejected the allegations.

"With the best will in the world I cannot remember such a discussion," he said. "I'd be surprised that I wouldn't have paid attention, or forgotten about such a statement."

Cardinal Danneels said he had been told about the abuse case a few weeks ago by Bishop Vangheluwe, and agreed to mediate a conversation between the bishop and the victim, at the request of the victim's family.

"He had no plans of keeping it a secret, but was waiting until after a second meeting between the two parties to speak out," said Hans Geybel, an assistant to Cardinal Danneels.

Of the accusations of ignoring reports of abuse, he said: "We checked archives and I interviewed all the cardinals secretaries, and there was no record of his having been informed."

The two former priests, retired Father Rik Deville and Norbert Bethune, who was dismissed over a conflict with superiors, are a frequent critics of church hierarchy.

Father Deville told the Associated Press that he told Cardinal Danneels about a number of sexual-abuse cases.

"The cardinal sometimes got angry and said it was not my job, that I should not get involved," he said.

Father Deville couldn't be reached to comment.

There have been 33 confirmed cases of abuse in Belgium and a special commission is currently inspecting an additional 20. Cardinal Danneels hasn't been accused in any other cases.

On Sunday, the Vatican renewed efforts to show it is addressing the controversy. Pope Benedict XVI praised a group called Meter that has denounced sexual abuse by Italian priests.

Rev. Fortunato Di Noto, its founder, has criticized the church for handling the cases with impudence.

The pope thanked all those "who dedicated themselves to prevention and education against violence to children."

He recognized "parents, teachers, and so many priests and nuns who work with young people."

Meanwhile, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican, said a recent meeting between the pope and victims in Malta had shown the church was "capable of recognizing its wounds sincerely but also of obtaining the grace of healing," according to Italian news agency ANSA.

The sexual-abuse scandal "is extremely demanding and it requires us to be absolutely truthful and credible," he said. "The time has come for truth, transparency and credibility."

Belgium's Catholic leadership said it was committed to exposing abuse cases.

"The time for cover-up is over," Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard told De Standaard Saturday.


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