Transcripted phone interview with victim damning for Belgian cardinal

Tom Heneghan of Reuters:

The transcripts of two meetings between  Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and a man sexually abused by the disgraced former bishop of Bruges make for sad reading indeed. Two Flemish-language newspapers, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, published the texts on Saturday after the victim provided them with his secret recordings of the sessions.  My analysis of the case is here.

Apart from the exchanges they reveal, the transcripts are sobering because of the context of the meeting. It took place on April 8, at a time when the series of clerical sexual abuse revelations that began in Ireland the previous year was tearing through Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria like a tornado. Pope Benedict had issued an unprecedented apology to the Irish for the scandals only shortly before. Church leaders all over were vowing to end the Church’s culture of secrecy and put the victims’ welfare above the defence of the clergy. If there was any time to simply say, “OK, he has to go. We have to report this,” this was it.

(above) Archbishop Godfried Danneels

It’s a sad end for the career of a leading Catholic cardinal, a grandfatherly man who spent 30 years as primate of the Belgian Church and stepped down last January amid wide popular support (except from conservatives who denounced him as too liberal).

There’s also an almost comic side to this story. When Belgian police swooped down on Church offices and Danneels’s apartment in late June to seize files and computers for abuse records, they also searched two tombs of deceased archbishops in the Mechelen cathedral crypt because someone suggested the cardinal had hidden some  incriminating documents down there. They found nothing but the previous primates’ remains. Little did they know a real bombshell was elsewhere, on the tape the bishop’s victim had made.

I originally covered the raid here.

In the published transcripts of that meeting,  the unnamed victim, now 42, told Danneels he could no longer keep quiet about how his uncle, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, sexually abused him between the ages of 5 and 18. He says Vangheluwe could not remain in office and the case must be reported to the Church hierarchy, but he doesn’t know how to do this.

“What do you really want?” asks Danneels, cutting the victim off by saying he already knows the story and doesn’t need to hear it again. When the man says “I give you the responsibility, I can’t decide … you should do what you think should be done, because I don’t know how this whole system works.”

“Do you want this to be made public?” the cardinal asks. “I leave that to you,” the victim responds. Then Danneels begins his effort to convince him to keep the lid on the problem: “The bishop will step down next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait.”

“No, I can’t agree that he takes his leave in glory, I can’t do that,” the victim replies.

The transcript is too long for me to translate all of it here and the only English version I’ve seen is too rough to be recommended. In any case, the exchange only gets worse. At one point, Danneels ducks and weaves trying to fend off the victim’s pleas to inform the Church hierarchy about Vangheluwe’s misdeeds. He says he has no authority over the bishop, only the pope does. When the victim suggests Danneels arrange a meeting with the pope, the cardinal gives the flip reply: “The pope isn’t that easy to reach.” A little later, he says:  “I don’t think you’d do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops.”

At another point, Danneels suggests the victim admit his guilt and ask for forgiveness. “Who do I have to ask forgiveness from?” the surprised man asks.  When the  cardinal remarks that going public would put the bishop in a quandry, the victim replies: “I’ve been living my whole life in a quandry … I was brought up Catholic. I see the institution is wavering, I read the newspapers and so I think I have a duty to do this. How can I get my children to believe something that has such a background? I can’t. That’s just always shoving it onto the next generation. And everything stays the same. That’s not what the Church is for.”

When Danneels suggests the victim may be trying to blackmail the Church, the man pleads with him to take up this case, saying there has to be someone in the Church who can handle it because he cannot bring himself to expose his uncle on his own. “We were forced to get married by him, our children were baptised by him, how can I explain this to them?” he asked. “Yesterday I said to my oldest son, look, this is what happened to me. They must know what has happened.”

The exchange goes on with Danneels repeatedly arguing he has no power to do anything and that the whole story would come out if Vangheluwe were forced to resign. That’s when the victim asked: “Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me? … You’re always trying to defend him. I thought I was going to get some support, but I have to sit here and defend myself against things I can’t do anything about.”

The NY Times covers the story here.


One Response

  1. How I Repelled the Advances of
    Roman Catholic Pedophilic Priests

    When, in Italy, nonne and nonni are at their wits’ ends caring for their grandchildren whose father and mother are at the factory or office, they threaten their little hyperactive ones with this cutting admonition: “If you don’t stop misbehaving, we’ll call the Germans!” When, in New York, my Irishamerican grandmother or her husband lost their patience with me and my sister and brothers, they discouraged us with these words of caution: “If you don’t stop showing bad manners, we’ll send you to a school where the Irish Christian Brothers teach!” I often wonder whether it would have been more brainy to smack us on our backsides with a curt jolt to our overactive nervous systems instead of filling our tender sentiments with empty threats (I never studied with overtly sadistic clerics) that had no bases in reality and only occupied our minds with junk ideas—enough of them already! Why not tickling? Wouldn’t that have done the trick? My parents and grandparents could have tickled my short-lived aggressiveness out of my nerve endings, and because I would have been in fits of hysterical laughter, I would never had been able to file a cease and desist order against them in juvenile court.
    The centuries-old despotic streak of the Roman Catholic church (RCc) is well documented. Whether it be the cruelties authenticated during the Inquisition, or the blessings bestowed on nations stringently promoting colonial and imperialistic evildoing, or the collusion with the atrocious Nazi regime (Bavaria, Hitler’s stomping grounds, is a citadel of Roman Catholicism) during World War II, or the gratuitous patronage offered to fascist military dictators in Southamerica, or…, there is no doubt that the RCc serves not always as an eleemosynary spiritual leader bent on encouraging the Christian virtues it so vociferously exacts others to simulate. Nothing and no one is perfect, you might say.
    Nevertheless, we have an earnest discrepancy here when we set about finagling a logic which might in some determined fashion legitimize the actions of one of Christianity’s most powerful spiritual institutions, and a divergence even its wishy-washy but authoritarian RCc archpriests and women servants married to God cannot contravene. Out of the mouths of pious religionists affiliated with the RCc, which I know best, there oodles a barrage of love, peace and hugs for all of us which does not trip the light fantastic with many of the actions of the RCc carried through during the two long millennia that it has subsisted.
    Two direful personal observations taken from my university and military days come right away to my mind and these offer further cogent evidence that bear witness to the megascopic sanctimoniousness of the RCc. The first is its loathsome frame of mind with regard to women. Females are not only deprecated by RCc clerics themselves, the warped dogmas of the church’s canons serve to handle women as second-class, docile laborers assigned to cook, clean and, above all, teach little Catholic rascals their catechisms and the Ten Commandments they will so diligently, so relentlessly disobey and then constantly seek forgiveness for their infringements of them. When I attended St. Bonaventure University, I was stunned one day in World History class when an often drunk Franciscan friar, nicknamed “The Spike” for his harshness, instructed the three female students in our class of thirty-five (set in alphabetical order by “The Spike”) to “occupy the front row, cross your legs, and close the Gates of Hell.” All the “Bonnie men” in the room ripped out with huge roars of laughter. The three ladies sat petrified in silence. At St. Bonaventure sadistic pranks were frequently perpetrated not only on female co-eds, even nuns who attended the learning “institution” were victimized by often drunk, childish “Bonnie men” trying desperately to be something they were not. If only James Joyce had attended St. Bonaventure University! His A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man would have enjoyed a slew of additional anecdotes testifying to the stupidity of untested, horny Roman Catholic boys endeavoring to be adult males.
    It is late August 1967. I am sitting in a Continental airline’s Boeing 707 at Travis Air Force Base, California set for takeoff to Saigon—via Guam and Manila. There is only one “class.” The whole plane is divided into two sections: one and the other of rows of three from forward to aft. Still, officers are at the front of the jet. I’m to the left, seated five or six rows from the front, in the middle. On my left, at the window seat, is a US Army chaplain. Captain. (Captain is the entry rank for lawyers, doctors, dentists and religious types into the US Army—those who have something to say to you and something to ask you to pay for! RHIP. Rank Has Its Privileges!) He tells me he is a Trappist monk on leave from his monastery “so I can go to Vietnam to help the boys.” We talk some in flight, but for the most part, like most of the others in the plane who are not drunk, we remain mostly mum about our feelings and are immersed in thoughts of what might befall us. We are told we are descending and will land at Guam for a fuel stop. As we touch down, I see to my left ranks and ranks of B-52 bombers! The sight is shocking. I give up counting—there are so many! The Trappist monk, to my amazement, is fanning crosses, is blessing the B-52s!
    Then there was the Fourth Division’s caput chaplain, a full-bird (chicken [sic]) colonel), Irishman from Brooklyn, New York. This person of grotesque appearance was a blustering, overbearing character who made no bones about pushing his Roman Catholicism wherever he visited throughout the Fourth Division’s base camp. Every so often, in his freshly-starched fatigues and boots spit-shined by Vietnamese workers who were permitted to work in the BC for $1.00 a day, a polished chopper reserved for high-ranking officers would carry him to the battlefield to give general absolution to the troops. One day when I was jumping up and down with nervousness about an impending combat assault into unknown enemy territory, the chaplain’s copter clock-clocked above and spiraled down to meet us at our “saddle up” area. About to be inserted first into a suspect enemy location in waves of three-a-breast Huey choppers, all members of my forward observer party then those of the infantry company to which we were attached were terribly anxious thinking whether or not we would jump into open fields and find ourselves on a “hot” LZ (landing zone). The warriorlike man of the cloth walked over to the largest group, and without saying a word or even asking if there might be any Roman Catholics there, put a purple sash (stole) around his neck and began absolving all in sight their sins—he too fanning crosses over the men! After confession, the colonel returned to base camp to count communion wafers for the next day’s mass and then went on a priggish binge pulling Playboy centerfolds off the walls of soldiers’ barracks! (Guess the name of the patron/patroness saint of the Artillery!)
    A more contemporary transgression—that has caused the declining RCc not only outpourings of protest and has dishonored it irreparably demanding of it astounding accumulations of its wealth—is the scandal of pedophilia that has concerned an abundant number of its brothers and sisters and priests. Throughout the world, high-ranking RCc authorities have scurried to squelch the thousands and thousands of victims’ revelations of maltreatment perpetrated by Roman Catholic churchmen and churchwomen. The RCc officials have offered the unfortunate characters monetary compensation if they waiver their legal claims and refuse to accept media coverage which might detail the events of their sexual abuses many of which were suffered at so tender an age, it would take a lifetime for them to come to grips with themselves and finally muster the courage to admit that which they were subjected to by the promiscuous religious associates of the RCc.
    Papal crackerjacks of legalese have not been successful in crunching down the outrages caused by decades-old pedophilic dereliction in Ireland and the DisUnited States, but they have had success in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain where the RCc holds powerful sway in the media and political institutions. The “Devil” would need to be interviewed to determine the exact number of RCc clerics involved in sexual abuse among themselves and others not belonging to their religious secret club.
    The thought of pedophilia at once brings a sense of repulsion to most individuals. This astonishment very often also provokes the curious to investigate the subject, and today there are innumerable websites where access to unnatural sex acts—even among animals—is casual for those who still do not own pedophilic predilections. The repugnance for pedophilia is rooted in the notion that an unknowing, ingenuous child (boy or girl) is overwhelmed, seduced by a consenting adult (man or woman) who performs sexual acts that normally are the reserve of willing adults (mature individuals)—only. It is understood that a child is neither prepared nor competent enough emotionally to respond to the sexual inclinations of an adult who is both sexually more sophisticated and indeed more clever about the exigencies of life. In a pedophilic relationship, the child is someone who is initiated abruptly into the sexual rite without having the astuteness to say yes or no. Not only is the child’s body invaded, his or her mind is interpenetrated by an individual whose lasciviousness is superimposed on the injured one by means of verbal deceit and trickery which could not have been contended by the minor.
    When a priest or brother or sister engages in pedophilic matings, the disapprobation is magnified further. We do not expect those—for example, politicians—who constantly preach to us concerning our manners of performing, to flout the rules established for all of us to obey. We feel betrayed when they do so. We believe we have been duped. (The voting records of Northamericans testifies to the “faith” they hold in their politicians!) Ecclesiastical double crossing has encouraged many Roman Catholics to abandon the RCc, and today the RCc is in a scramble to recoup the religious formidableness it once possessed. (It took the RCc four-hundred years to accept the teachings of Galileo Galilei [1564-1642]! When will it permit gay and non-gay marriages among its spiritual leaders?)
    Yet, there is another aspect concerning religious pedophilia which should be mentioned. A youngster who is inveigled by a clergyman or clergywoman is approached by an individual who is a symbol of an institutionalized say-so, dominance. The brother or sister or priest is garbed in those robes which relate to a two-millennia tradition that basks in an almost universal acquiescence. It is often easier for an ecclesiastic, whether male or female, to lure because he or she is propped up with a visible assurance that is spontaneous—as when a police official flashes his badge before us and wants to see our documents or a pregnant woman requests a seat on a bus. A child can be more easily overpowered sexually by a pedophilic reverend than by an old man or woman, with children as their preferred sexual object, sitting on a park bench. Consequently, mothers and fathers of children, who frequent Roman Catholic religious and social activities, must be cautious. Kids are not to be left alone with brothers, nuns and/or priests. Beware of the confessional. Many, many sexual impieties have been committed in confessional boxes.
    From when I was a boy of twelve years (1957) to that of being a young adult of twenty-one (1966), I lived the most dramatic and depressing time of my life. For it was during that period that I had to succumb to the pedagogy of the Roman Catholic church dictated to me by priests and an occasional nun. I recall suffering enormously trying to understand why I had to accept various nonsensical precepts—merely obligated to believe them as a matter of faith. This tore at my intellectual faculties strenuously primarily because I felt alone, with no one to sync with my notions. It was a joyous day for me when I was “let out” of St. Bonaventure University’s internment camp of Roman Catholic religious dogma. (See St. Bonaventure University: A Gulag of Militaristic, Sexual & Philosophical Indoctrination on
    I have reported the five Irishamerican Roman Catholic priests, who I believe approached me seeking illicit sexual relations, to Barbara Blaine and David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests ( not because I was victimized by them, I was not, but because my “testimony” might help others who reluctantly could have been their sexual prey. I support the efforts of SNAP, and I am perspicacious enough to know that the RCc does not hold the registered trademark on pedophilia—nevertheless, many of its members are foremost practitioners of sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object.
    Why did I not become pedophilic quarry for the priests who were my instructors for almost a decade? There are two main reasons. The first regards the respect for women which, inadvertently, was the norm in my upbringing. My mother, some aunts and older female cousins held positions of authority in public and private organizations in New York, and these “role models” encouraged me, at a very early age, to come to expect that women were, like men, held in high regard by society in general. It was a terrible awakening for me when, in later years, I would come to learn that women did not enjoy the high esteem that many of my family members experienced working as professionals and managers in the not-terribly-so feminist 1950s. However, from 1957 to 1966 I carried with me the idea that gentlewomen were on an even par with gentlemen socially, politically and economically. Therefore, their role and my part to be with them, was what I envisioned for myself as I grew older.
    Secondly, my sexual disposition is decidedly focused on females. There are a number of reasons for this. One in particular is the fact that when I was a small boy, five girls, who shared an apartment with their widowed mother and lived directly above my family, took an interest in me and frequently served as my babysitter. I received their affection and goodwill and I recollect best that time when I reflect on a passage from my manuscript, Why I Live Beyond the DisUnited States of Northamerica:
    …I was in the back seat of the car with three of the sisters.
    The girls were all modestly dressed and wore pants or shifts
    over their drying bathing suits. Their lightweight summer wear,
    colorful blouses and tee-shirts, let me view their anatomy with
    intense interest, and I remember peeking at the depression
    between one of the girl’s breasts—made visible by her wearing
    of a loosely-fitted shirt top—and taking peeps to take in
    more of this lass sitting closest to the window on the right
    side in the rear of what was, I can only guess now, a Ford
    automobile. Or, was it a Chevrolet?
    I was fascinated by the mounds of flesh protruding from
    the chests of these girl-women. I counted ten “lumps” under
    the cotton clothing covering the bosoms of the five sisters.
    I would never have dared to make an effort to touch these
    enormous, marshmallowy-like protrusions which I did not
    even know incorporated—on their tips—protuberances,
    lactiferous ducts of the girls’ mammary glands, which opened
    and from which their milk would one day be drawn to nurture
    baby girls and baby boys. I know not why I did not make
    real this cogent want. The wish to do so, however, was
    embedded obsessively in my boyish desire, and in the years
    to come would torment me excruciatingly. My day would
    come, but I had to wait for it. I sank back down into the
    seat of the car, into a sort of puerile puzzlement. I was too
    green indeed to murmur the smooth, silver-tongued word
    Overwhelmed in the simplemindedness of my callow
    singularity, there was nothing for me to do but absorb the
    sensory voluptuousness that spun around me lodged there
    in the back part of that Ford—or Chevy. Women’s breasts
    and pretty dresses and wavy hair were not the only
    impressions that landed ingratiatingly on my organ of
    thought left there to commingle ultimately with a lifelong
    peppering of imprecise feelings which, in toto, would
    constitute that what I am.
    For instance, there were scents to get a whiff of. Suntan
    lotions. Lipsticks. Deodorants. Nail polishes. Makeup.
    The odor that swelled out from an opened handbag.
    Chewing gum. Hair that had been shampooed at the showers
    along the beach. Perfume? I can’t remember. But I do recall,
    later in life, I could be strolling down a street in Caracas
    or Rome and if a woman passed me by, buzzing away
    and leaving me in the downdraft of her perfume or makeup
    foundation, a precise fragrance, I could be drawn back
    twenty—even thirty—years to a place in time and space and
    to a woman I desired and loved. I could see her face and
    easily summon up the surroundings of a room, a restaurant
    where we shared the joy of being together.
    As we traveled home to Brooklyn, a myriad of aromas were
    fanned about my face, from all directions. From time to time,
    they coalesced to create one unique trail of a pleasant
    air that swept through my nostrils and stimulated me
    into a goofy self-satisfaction. Otherwise, one outstanding
    redolence, perhaps a maquillage or a sticky aerosol used
    to hold hair in place, would impress me and I would
    download this smell into my personal cornucopia where
    it rested with the many others—gleeful reminders to me
    of the distinctions possessed, I assumed, by whichever
    member of the gentle sex.
    And Music!!! To this day, I possess almost perfect images
    of the radio’s speaker with a chromed grill protecting it
    and the two black knobs flanking it: one for tuning and
    the other for volume/on/off. Under one nub there was a
    metal ring that could be manipulated to control the tone
    and vary it from high to low. The antenna was on the left
    side fender of the car and through it a hodgepodge of
    popular music waved through the car to the merriment
    of all of us. One girl snapped her fingers. Another kept
    time to the Music by tapping her foot. A couple of sisters
    sang. One clapped to the beat. When a song faded away,
    the girl in the “shotgun” seat immediately turned the
    tuning knob searching to come up with another hit record
    for us to sing and hum within our ecstasy which was
    enclosed in the closed quarters of an automobile and not in
    the open space of, for example, a dance floor. I cannot
    construct a list of the songs I heard that evening coming
    home from the cool beach and then flowing happily into
    the sweltering streets of Brooklyn. It surely was not the
    rock n’ roll era. In those days Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald,
    Frankie Lane, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee,
    Louis Armstrong and a host of other post-World War II
    musical phenomena held sway in the recording industry.
    And today, when I hear the Music of these hall-of-famers,
    I wonder if it was their songs we had enjoyed in that car
    returning to 310 Devoe Street on a sultry summer’s night.
    Jerking home—with the shifting of gears—to Brooklyn in the
    congested beach traffic and yearning earnestly that I could
    remain forever in the bosom of my five-member
    sisterhood—all of whom I thralled at my beck and
    call!–it would have been preposterous to think that I
    could ever have roused in my mind the idea that Woman
    and Music would come to be such an integral component
    of my essence and abide in my psyche for the rest of
    my life. There was no way for me to guess my forthcoming
    and I unquestionably could not even have rationalized,
    at my tender age, that I, too, would one day flourish to be
    as complete as were the five girls with me in the car. I was
    a boy being bombarded by bevies of empirical impressions
    which I was powerless to categorize or interpret.
    The way home was closing the more on Williamsburg.
    The mademoiselles were fretting about the swelter,
    foreseeing doing something more tantalizing after, and
    trying their best to make the time flash by faster. Naturally,
    I was delighted with the delay. Nothing in this world had
    been before more pleasing to me than being now with my
    five young unmarried women. I had it in my heart to stay
    in saecula saeculorum in this serendipitous state. I was bent
    upon nailing this splendid time to the wall—to keep it there.
    I selfishly sought to pickle myself in the juices of this
    thrilling companionship trusting that it would be conserved
    for my eternity.
    Maybe about an hour before getting to our destination—my
    sunburnt skin and beginning-to-growl stomach had levied on
    me an-end-of-the-day drowsiness and I had perched my
    head on the top of the front seat—that inamorata, closest
    to the window (was her name Pat?), took me into her arms
    and laid my boyishness on the cushioning of her bosom!
    I limpened in the tenderness of her geniality. Her smells
    enveloped me right off. I was wrapped in that field of
    energy that emanated from her flesh and blood, and as
    tickled pink as a piglet in a pigpen, I curled up cozily and
    every once in a while switched the position of my head
    in order to find an even softer place amongst her doughy
    front or to sample the texture—to see if it was equal to
    the other portions—of another part of her two breasts.
    Never once did the desire to quaff upon her cross my
    mind. I did not seek nutrients. Eating was the last thing
    on my mind. I craved emotional contentment. And I
    was filling myself up with barrows of it. There was
    nothing that could have made me happier than this
    sensation of proximity to a woman. I could not doze off…

    There was no way a male religionist—wreaking of cigarette smoke, dressed in black, the sleeves of his cassock snowed upon with chalk dusk, his breath bringing on the smells of beer or whisky, his skin coarse—was going to come so near to me where he might attempt to entice me into joining in with him in the performance of salacious sex acts. Amen!!!

    Authored by Anthony St. John
    1 February MMX
    Calenzano, Italia

    * * *

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