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Cardinal says he erred in meeting with victim

Retired Belgian cleric regrets he proposed coverup

“He realizes that the whole approach, as it was, was not the right one. It was improvisation, ” said Toon Osaer, spokesman for retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels (left). “He realizes that the whole approach, as it was, was not the right one. It was improvisation, ” said Toon Osaer, spokesman for retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels (left).
By Raf Casert
Associated Press / August 31, 2010

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BRUSSELS — The former head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged that he should not have held a meeting with a victim of serial sexual abuse or suggested a cover up until the offending bishop retired.

The April 8 meeting that retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels held was secretly taped by the victim, and the conversation was published in two newspapers over the weekend.

Since the publication of the tapes, Danneels, 77, has faced fierce criticism for his suggestion that the sexual abuse be kept secret and that the victim should consider forgiving the bishop, his uncle, as part of seeking closure.

“He realizes that the whole approach, as it was, was not the right one,’’ Danneels’s spokesman, Toon Osaer, said yesterday. Osaer said Danneels was unprepared for the meeting. “It was improvisation.’’

La Libre newspaper, long a staunch ally of the church, joined the chorus of Danneels’s critics yesterday.

In a commentary, it said Danneels’s behavior shows how long “the law of silence’’ was “the only response of the Catholic hierarchy’’ to sex abuse cases. “The absolute priority remained the preservation of the image of the institution and the honor of its members.’’

Two weeks after the April 8 conversation, 73-year-old Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges resigned, expressing sorrow for having long abused his nephew, both as a priest and after becoming a bishop more than 20 years ago.

Danneels said he only knew a few days ahead of the meeting of the bishop’s abuse, which ended more than two decades ago. “At a certain point, he let himself be persuaded by Monsignor Vangheluwe to take part in such a meeting,’’ Osaer said. Monsignor is the courtesy title that bishops use.

“Looking back I have been naive by going to such a meeting unprepared,’’ Osaer quoted Danneels as saying. But Danneels also said he regretted that the confidential meeting was made public by the victim, who is now 42 years old.

In the conversation that the victim secretly taped, Danneels said: “In fact, the monsignor steps down next year. It would be better that you wait’’ to go public. He then suggested measures about how to keep it quiet.

Later Danneels said: “I don’t know whether it would be to your advantage to make a lot of noise about it. Neither for you, nor for him.’’ He also urged the victim to forgive his uncle for the 13 years of abuse.

Osaer said the transcript was “in no way’’ in doubt, but he added that it was not complete and did not give the full context of the meeting. “It is not correct to say that Danneels implied — let’s give forgiveness and that’s it,’’ Osaer said.

Danneels’s successor, Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard, has said from the outset of his tenure in January that he would not cover up any cases of abuse.

His spokesman, Jurgen Mettepenningen, said the church was preparing a new initiative to deal with the sex abuse issue, an initiative that should be ready by mid-September.

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