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Cardinal urged Catholic sex abuse victim to keep quiet, new tapes reveal

A conversation published this weekend by Belgian media provides a rare glimpse into a transaction between church officials and victims involved in Catholic sex abuse scandals.

By Staff writer / August 30, 2010

Cardinal Godfried Danneels (l.), former head of Belgium's Catholic Church, arrives at Belgian federal police headquarters in Brussels July 6.




A former Belgian church leader privately urged a victim of sexual abuse to remain silent this past spring, at a time when the Vatican was denying the scope and scale of a pedophile scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church to its core.

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The April 8 conversation, captured on tapes published this weekend and confirmed by church authorities as genuine, offers a rare glimpse into a transaction between church officials and victims in what has been described as a widespread practice of hushing pedophile cases.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels is heard telling the victim, a nephew of Bishop Robert Vangheluwe, “The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait… I don’t think you would do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops.”

Taped April 8 meeting

The tapes came from an April 8 meeting between Cardinal Danneels, Bishop Vangheluwe, and the unidentified victim to discuss how to proceed in an instance of sexual abuse the victim had long tried to report. The case was long ignored until media organizations in Ireland and Germany, as well as The New York Times, revealed a broad pattern of pedophilia by priests that went well beyond Catholic clergy in the United States.

In the taped conversation, published Saturday by the Belgian dailies Het Nieuwsblad and De Standaard, the victim asks for help in reporting the case. But Danneels – the former archbishop of Brussels who ordained Vangheluwe as bishop of Bruges in December 1984 but left his post in January – says he is not in a position to report the case to church authorities or Pope Benedict.

Danneels asked the victim to accept a private apology from Vangheluwe and not "drag his name through the mud" – at least until the bishop retired, which he was expected to do in the coming year. The victim replied, “He [Vangheluwe] has dragged my whole life through the mud, from 5 until 18 years old… Why do you feel sorry for him and not for me?”

Vangheluwe resigned on April 23, admitting that he had illicit relations with a “boy in my close entourage.”

The resignation followed a threatening e-mail to Belgian bishops from someone close to the nephew, calling for Vangheluwe to step down or risk exposure of his misdeeds.