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At Least They're Our Perverts

Michael Liccione, Sacramentum Vitae, 26 June 2010

Cardinal Godfried Danneels


Already numb, I can't work up enough outrage about the exposé, published two days ago in The Brussels Journal, of "the fall of the Belgian Church" by Alexandra Colen, now a member of the Belgian parliament. (We can't say we're 'shocked' anymore, since everybody instantly repeats the word and thus evokes Captain Renault's joke in Casablanca.) Here's the opening paragraph of Colen's piece:
In Belgium today [June 24], police searched the residence of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and the crypt of the Archbishop’s cathedral in Mechelen. They were looking for evidence of cover-ups in the ongoing investigation into widespread pedophilia practices within the Belgian church in the decades during which Cardinal Godfried Danneels was Archbishop. Danneels retired in January of this year.

The article proceeds to recount some of the lurid details, which the author was personally involved in discovering and protesting as a Catholic parent. Let the squeamish beware.

We've seen versions of this movie already, over and over, with different characters and plot twists in quite a number of countries. Yet for those not already depleted by outrage fatigue, two factors make this one more outrageous than most. I shall describe them in the hope and with the prayer that the right lessons will be learned by some of the right people.

The first kicker is how Cardinal Danneels was, himself, enabled to enable the problems for three decades. What makes it so astonishing is that, as the article makes clear, the problems were public knowledge for much of that time. So how did he get away with it?

Two reasons. For one, and as the MSM have made sure we know, the Vatican wasn't aggressive enough in disciplining evildoers. But the other reason is the MSM themselves. Danneels was a darling of both ecclesial and secular "progressives" throughout his 30-year reign. Since progressives dominate the MSM in Western Europe even more than here, the damning facts were reported only haltingly, and no drumbeat of outrage was sounded against Danneels or his minions.

Although there's no evidence that Danneels himself committed sexual acts that are criminal, the evidence is overwhelming that he did not acknowledge the gravity of what he was enabling right under his nose. On the charitable assumption that his failure was due to ignorance, the ignorance itself was culpable. Somehow, though, I find it hard to believe that it was just ignorance. By 2002, the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandals in the Church had become impossible for anybody to ignore. I think it more likely that, for whatever reasons, Danneels was swayed by some underlying sympathy with the perps. But the Belgian media didn't want to talk about the long-running scandal for a long time, even aside from the question of Danneel's motives for enabling it. Both their and Danneel's attitude seems to have been: "They may be perverts, but at least they're our perverts." If Danneel's theological and political orientation had been conservative, his own failure might still have been what it's been, but you can bet the farm that the MSM would have striven to bring him down.

A similar dynamic has operated in favor of Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. Slated to retire and be replaced by a Latino coadjutor, he has long presided over the most extensive sex-abuse scandal of any U.S. diocese. Payouts have been enormous and, almost certainly, more will eventually be ordered. Yet Mahony openly stonewalled the civil authorities for years without ever being prosecuted for obstruction of justice—or even eliciting a widespread campaign for him to resign, as Cardinal Law did seven years ago in Boston. None of that is in dispute. How could it happen? Simple: ecclesial and political "progressives" such as Mahony don't exactly get a pass, but are held to lower standards because their MSM allies don't want to undermine their larger cause. The young are thus sacrificed to political expediency as much by the Left as by anybody else. But you're not going to hear about that from the MSM, especially when it comes to the higher incidence of sexual abuse in public-school systems.

The other kicker in the Danneels case is the dilemma it poses for the conventional progressive wisdom. Popes rarely depose bishops, and the more prominent a bishop's see, the less likely he is to be deposed. That's probably how it should be. The pope is not the CEO of Catholic Church, Inc; he is chief bishop among his brother bishops. His exercise of jurisdiction over the Church universal must and does take due account of that. But amid the current agony of scandal, many progs will have none of it. They all want the Church to be less centralized when that would weaken Rome's doctrinal authority, but want her more centralized when that would help prevent things such as the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandal—except, of course, when the guy covering up is himself a progressive. Then we must remember collegiality.

Of course they can't have it both ways. But as Chesterton loved to show, the Catholic Church has always faced mutually incompatible charges. That's one of the reasons I'm Catholic. When you're always damned if you do and damned if you don't, you're probably on firmer ground than your enemies.