Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium has denied he intended to cover up a bishop’s sexual abuse and said he was “unprepared” for his meeting with a victim who secretly taped their conversation. His spokesman acknowledged the transcripts of the meeting but claimed they do not show enough nuance.
A 42-year-old nephew of the former Bishop of Bruges Roger Vangheluwe accused his uncle of sexually abusing him. The nephew made a recording of his April 8 meeting with the cardinal, transcripts of which were published in two Belgian newspapers on Saturday.
According to Reuters, the tapes feature the former head of the Belgian Catholic Church urging the alleged victim to accept a private apology or to wait a year until Bishop Vangheluwe’s retirement before making his accusations public.
"The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait," the cardinal said, according to the meeting transcript. "I don't think you'd do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops."
In the transcript the cardinal said he cannot discipline the bishop or inform higher authorities, including Pope Benedict. He said the bishop should turn himself in, but also warned the victim about trying to blackmail the Church.
The victim denied he wanted to blackmail anyone and said in the meeting that his uncle “dragged my whole life through the mud, from 5 until 18 years old.”
"Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me?" the victim asked.
A second tape records the cardinal and Bishop Vangheluwe meeting with the victim and a relative of his. In that tape the bishop apologized and said he has searched for a way to make up for his misdeeds.
According to Reuters, the victim decided to publish the tapes to counter allegations he had tried to blackmail the bishop.
Bishop Vangheluwe resigned on April 23, admitting he had sexually abused a boy about 20 years earlier.
In a Sunday statement Cardinal Danneels’ interim spokesman Toon Osaer said that it was never the cardinal’s intention in his conversation with the victim to “hush up” the abuses committed.
“The cardinal granted the request of the family to be a mediator within the family circle after these abuses. In the confidential context of a family meeting, different approaches were examined in search of a reconciliation,” the statement continued.
“In no moment was pressure exerted, neither on the family nor on the victim, to keep the facts secret ... Cardinal Danneels repeats that he condemns the abuses committed by the bishop emeritus and he deeply regrets them.”
According to the spokesman, the prelate is also disappointed that a confidential conversation was recorded and released without the knowledge of both parties.
While the Belgian media is focusing on the cardinal’s failure to tell journalists about his attempt to persuade the victim to remain silent, Danneels’ spokesman claimed this showed his willingness not to break the confidentiality of the meeting and expose a victim who had not yet gone public.
Osaer told the Associated Press on Monday that the cardinal realizes “that the whole approach, as it was, was not the right one.” The cardinal was unprepared for the meeting and improvised his comments.
The spokesman added said that the transcript of the meeting was not in doubt, but he said it was not complete enough to give a more nuanced understanding of the meeting. "It is not correct to say that Danneels implied — let's give forgiveness and that's it," Osaer said.