Concerns are being raised after Pope Francis gave a place of honour at the ongoing Synod on the Family to an ultra-liberal cardinal who tried to cover up a sex abuse scandal and has admitted trying to undermine the previous pope.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels, former Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in Belgium, has already angered conservatives by calling for the Catholic Church to recognise a “sort of marriage” for gay couples and praising secular governments for introducing civil unions for same-sex couples.
Critics are now also pointing to a scandal in 2010, when Cardinal Danneels tried to cover up a sex abuse case involving a fellow bishop. An audio recording leaked to the Belgian media revealed the cardinal urging the victim not to reveal that his abuser was his uncle Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges.
Cardinal Danneels asked the victim if he would wait until Bishop Vangheluwe retired before going public, and even told him to “ask forgiveness” and “acknowledge your own guilt”. The victim responds: “Whose forgiveness do I have to seek? I am not the one to ask for forgiveness.”
When the victim said he would not wait until Bishop Vangheluwe retired and demanded that the cardinal should inform Pope Benedict XVI at once, Cardinal Danneels accused him of trying to “blackmail” them.
The press soon got hold of the recording and Bishop Vangheluwe was forced to resign in disgrace, with Cardinal Danneels’s name also dragged through the mud. He claimed he had been “improvising” during the conversation and was merely trying to resolve a dispute within the bishop’s family.
However, despite the cover-up scandal and Cardinal Danneels’s controversial views, Pope Francis has personally invited him to attend the Synod on the Family.
Last month, the cardinal also admitted to being part of a left wing “mafia” that tried to undermine the previous pope, Benedict XVI, who they regarded as too conservative. He even boasted of helping get Francis elected to the papacy, although Vatican insiders say he is exaggerating his influence.
This is the second time Pope Francis has given Cardinal Danneels a place of honour. He also personally chose him to attend last year’s Extraordinary Synod – the precursor to this year’s meeting.
Catholic journalist Damian Thompson has questioned why the mainstream media, usually all-too-keen to report on scandals in the Church, are silent on the liberal cardinal:
“Now the matter needs to be properly investigated. Pope Francis must explain why a man who tried to conceal sex abuse within a family is a leading participant in a synod discussing the pastoral care of families.
“So far, the media have shown no interest in this story. That wouldn’t be the case if Benedict XVI were still pope.”
The Synod has been called to discuss how the Church should deal with family life in the modern world, although it does not have the power to change Catholic teaching.