Roger Vangheluwe was a priest when he began sexually abusing his five-year-old nephew. The abuse continued even after 1984, when Vangheluwe, at age 48, became bishop of Bruges.
The boy’s family pressured the boy to remain silent to preserve the bishop’s career. The bishop gave the family money (source of money unspecified). As he grew up, the boy was filled with anger.
Over the years, the nephew — who still does not want his name used publicly — channeled his rage into creating art: giant screaming images in gnarled wood or a montage of a boy being crushed by a mattress. (NYT)
In 1996 Father Rik Devillé told Cardinal Godfried Danneels about the abuse.
… he said, the cardinal listened impatiently, glancing frequently at his watch. Weeks later, Father Devillé received a letter from the cardinal. “Stop making unfounded public accusations against the church and its functionaries if you don’t have proof,” it read. (NYT)
(Danneels now claims to have no memory of this incident)
A niece of the now-adult nephew received a holy card from Bishop Vangheluwe for her confirmation. It had a note about the importance of a healthy childhood. This enraged the nephew, and he decided to confront Vangheluwe and Danneels.
In April 2010 the nephew met with Vangheluwe and Cardinal Danneels. The nephew was expecting the new archbishop Leonard to be there but he did not come. Vangheluwe left the room.
(The translation of the transcript is rough. I will replace it if I can find a better one)
Nephew : So I lost my entire youth to abuse by my uncle Roger. Sexual and still mentally and I think I should do something and that I have a duty to report that to a higher authority.Danneels: What would you really want? I know the story, he has already told me. You should not tell me it all again, but what would you really want me to do?
Nephew: I give the responsibility to you, I cannot decide, I have this burden on my shoulders and I want rid myself of this burden and to give that burden to you. That is my intention.
Danneels: Yes …
Nephew: And you do what you think should be done, because I do not know how the whole system works, so …
Danneels: Do you want it to be published, anyway?
Nephew: Euuhm … I leave it to you.
Danneels: Actually, Monsignor will resign next year, would it actually be better that you wait.Nephew: No, no, no.
Nephew: I want to go through it all. For him the only honest and the easiest way to die with an easy conscience would be to give up his responsibilities. It will be much easier for him. And before you actually go through the mud and everything you need to undergo, and then you come to terms with yourself.Danneels: That’s what prompted strong. It is quite strong to say: you have publicly humiliated for everyone.
Nephew: You need to anyway. He should just resign.
Ah yes, that’s the humiliation that he must resign, hey.Nephew: Yes yes.
Danneels: Then people say: why should he resign? So, they’re going to find out. you know, why he resigned they’re going to find out. Which is quite a burden …
Nephew: But why are you so sorry for him and not me?
Danneels: I can tell you that.
Nephew: You always try to defend him, I thought I was going to have some support, I must defend myself here from things I cannot do anything about.
Danneels: No, I’m not saying anything you can do anything about it but something should be done differently.
Nephew: But what should be done?
Danneels: Questions of forgiveness anyway.
Nephew: And that was enough for you
Danneels: When you say …
Nephew: Why should I? He had been able to do that much earlier but it was not necessary. When I was 18, my father told him. We are now 25 years on and he has never asked forgiveness, why could he not do that much earlier, then it might never have come this far.
No, I will not accept that he just disappears from the scene in heavenly glory and that it is the matter finished. He has his responsibility that he has taken all this and I wish that you now take your responsibility as the superior. That is my intention.Danneels: Yes, I can do no wrong because I did not.
Danneels: Well, I would suggest that we might be better to wait for a date next year when he would usually resign.
Nephew: No, I do not agree, and him taking glory in saying goodbye, no I cannot. The cover-up technique that you have used for so many years as you have, I’ll have to learn to live with, but eh
(snip)Danneels: But I have no authority over Monsignor Vangheluwe.
Nephew: And who did?
Danneels: Actually, no one except the Pope.(snip)
Nephew: Then perhaps you can go through and that you can arrange an appointment with the Pope and then we’ll go there. It is already 42 years that I suffer and I want no more, I can not stop, I can not, and I would not leave everything as it is.It has a very big impact in the family in everything in my relationship with my wife in everything, I’m tired of that life and that the matter remains so dominant, and I would agree to that. I have arrived at the age that I want my freedom for life.
Danneels: Actually, the first responsibility lies with him, he, rather than from his superiors.
Nephew: But if he does not want to do what has to be done …
Danneels: What do you ask of him? that he would resign?
Nephew: But he must decide, I just want to tell, that’s it. You wish me to say something that I cannot say I can not, I do not know how to proceed, or should I look for another way for me to obtain closure.
And today I had demanded that he confess openly speaks to the family, saying that he did those things. While everyone is there.
Danneels: He will do that.
Nephew: I had expected for today, we can directly do better and we’ll see, if nothing happens, then I go to the pope.
Danneels: The pope is not so easy to get though to …(snip)
Danneels: I do not know if it would benefit either you or him to give a dramatic deadline.Nephew: I still think that the victim’s privacy should be respected, there should not be no names used.
Danneels: But yes, you put him in a quandary.
Nephew: I have all my life been in a difficult position, I’m not planning to have pity, I want that fight to finish, it has done for me, that I finally once again have a clean slate for myself that I do what I want to do.
I was in a Catholic school and I was brought up Catholic. I’m very upset with that institute, I also read the newspapers, so I think I have an obligation to do so. How can I get my children to believe in something with such a background that will not move on, then you just move straight into the next generation. And everything remains as it is, and that is not the intention of the church.
Danneels: No, it’s not the intention to discredit someone?
Nephew: Give me another solution, I should forgive and it is resolved.
Danneels: No, no, no.
Nephew: And he goes on as normal.
Danneels: You could also say he will resign next year anyway, and that for example, he says, look, I no longer go on television and such. With those things, and you come to a year.
Nephew: No, I want it placed in your hands and then you decide.
Danneels: You can grab us and blackmail, hey, and say look, you have to do something.
Danneels: You can blackmail and say, look if you do not say …
Nephew: Why should I want to blackmail? I’m not going to blackmail.
Danneels: Well, if you for example say they do nothing, and you bring it to public notice …(snip)
Nephew:We were forced to be married by him, for everything, the children were baptized by him, how can I explain to them? I now have my oldest son who asked yesterday: Look, what happened with me. They do not yet know what happened? That is still true, that cannot continue, and waiting for everything to retutn to the same situation- that’s still no solution?Danneels: Ah! We can also, as I said, ask forgiveness and give forgiveness, which is also a possibility.
That’s not possible for me, I do not believe anymore, as you do in these things, no, it is not possible.That’s not possible for me, I do not believe anymore, as you do in these things, no, it is not possible.
Nephew: If I cause an accident, drunk, I will also be punished.Danneels: A punishment sentences. You have penalties that are public and private penalties, that’s a big difference huh. Your name gets out, pulled through the mud …
Nephew: My name?
Danneels: His name.Nephew: He has ensured that my whole life is pulled through the mud. From 5 to 18 years old. Can you imagine?
After this failed meeting a friend of the nephew e-mailed all the bishops of Belgium and revealed the abuse. The nephew very wisely secretly taped this meeting. He released the transcript after the Belgian bishops claimed that he was trying to blackmail them.
Vangheluwe publicly admitted the abuse and resigned:
“When I was still just a priest, and for a certain period at the beginning of my episcopate, I sexually abused a minor from my immediate environment,”
Danneels successor, Leonard, said this about the resignation of the confessed incestuous child abuser:
that Vangheluwe was known as a “great brother and dynamic bishop” who was highly appreciated within the Belgian Church
Several things come through in this transcript: Cardinal Danneels, a hero of the progressive wing of the Church, is as much a clericalist as the most hidebound Italian cardinal. His sole concern is protecting the career and reputation of a bishop. The pain of the victim, a mere layman, is invisible to Danneels, whose only concern is with a fellow cleric.
Danneels disclaims all responsibility – only the pope can do anything – but of course it is very difficult to arrange a meeting with the pope.
Vangheluwe is unrepentant. He has never asked for forgiveness. He nephew correctly states that the only way to obtain forgiveness is for Vangheluwe to take responsibility for what he has done, and Vangheluwe has refused to do that his whole life.
The nephew is a classic example of the Stockholm syndrome. He let his abuser witness his marriage and baptize his children. The hierarchy has perfected the technique of cultivating the Stockholm syndrome among victims of clerical abuse.
Danneels tries to manipulate the nephew but claiming that the nephew is blackmailing Danneels by saying he will go public unless V resigns. Danneels tells the victim that he – the victim – should ask for forgiveness. The misuse of demands to forgive to protect clerical malefactors will weigh heavy on the scales at the Day of Judgment.
Belgian law states that the victim of sexual abuse has ten years after he reaches 18 to report the abuse. Since the nephew was under pressure from his family to keep quiet, he did not report in that time period and Vangheluwe cannot be criminally prosecuted.
The police raid that seized documents form Danneels residence was pronounced illegal and the documents cannot be used in prosecutions.
No cleric in Belgium will be inconvenienced by an earthly court of law. The hierarchy are no doubt congratulating themselves on their cleverness in manipulating the situation. We shall see whether they can manipulate the Great Assizes.