Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sagacity and sanctity…

…tend to go hand in hand.

The following comment, by Fr. Joseph Ponessa, SSD, is one of the finest, most level-headed, illuminating, and humble things I've seen in my various recent researches into the Belgian abuse crisis and the ensuing police raid. The source is the comment thread at a small editorial by Rod Dreher.

Because the comments on this site are more elevated in tone than those on other sites, I shall post some reflections.

(1) The Belgian state pays the salaries and benefits of the Belgian bishops, as in the phrase "state church." Separation of church and state is not so strict as in America, where the boundaries are constitutionally guaranteed. This gives the state more latitude to intervene legally, but requires the church to be more vigilant in asserting her rights.

(2) The Belgian hierarchy meet monthly rather than semi-annually as the American hierarchy does. That would put them in a position to communicate collectively with the civil authorities on a more regular basis. That the raid took place at the scheduled time of their monthly meeting, where they were detained for nearly ten hours, seems to indicate an attempt by the judicial authorities to humiliate, not just to investigate.

(3) The fact that the ambassador from the Vatican was detained with the bishops is a serious breach of diplomatic protocol. Remember the keeping of the American diplomats hostage in Iran? The correct way of expressing displeasure with the Vatican would have been to remove the diplomatic credentials and send the ambassador home. Seizure of computers with diplomatic documents on them also violates international law. I imagine that countries like USA or Russia would never tolerate such actions against their ambassadors.

(4) No doubt the Belgian judiciary has the subpoena power. If they wanted documents from the church they could have issued a subpoena as American courts have done. To go directly from negotiation to seizure seems to have skipped the intermediate step. In America this would never be done to a legal corporation.

(5) The last time that church documents were seized in Belgium was in 1940, when the Nazis confiscated baptismal records. As a result many Catholics who had a Jewish ancestor were arrested and shipped to concentration camps, never to return. Most Belgians over the age of 75 will have a painful memory of this violation of church integrity, and the families of those exterminated are reliving their grief.

(6) The resignation of the highly respected head of the church investigatory panel [viz., Peter Adriaenssens, of whom more later] shows that the civil actions did severe damage to the work of Catholics who were trying to be part of the solution. If the church files demonstrated collusion by the judiciary in cover-up, then the raids could have been motivated by an attempt to destroy evidence damaging to judges. If that had been the intent, the raid was greatly successful.

(7) Belgian law follows the Napoleonic code, and precedent does not have the same force it does in Anglo-Saxon law. Still, agents of the law must avoid roughing up the objects of investigation, or it will become habit-forming. As the Nuremburg Court established, the first time rights are denied by a judge, the judge becomes guilty of all the consequences. Brussels is one of the capitals of the European Union, which has an increasingly hostile political stance towards the church. When the state wants to fight with the church, it has all of the assets. Is this an opening skirmish in yet another round of pillaging, as happened in the 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries?

(8) The comparison [made by Bertone] with Communist treatment of bishops is egregious. When the Red Army occupied Ruthenia, the bishop was shot. Over half the Russian clergy were dead by the end of the Revolution. That was far worse than what the Belgians have just done to the dignity of their bishops.

(9) As we know, the KGB enlisted collaborators by trapping them in sexual situations. In Eastern Europe -- and probably to some degree in Western also -- there were priests and bishops who collaborated, and that problem overlaps with the pedophile problem. Not all collaborators were pedophiles, and not all pedophiles were collaborators, but the Communists had better files on the clergy than the church did, and they built a network of infiltration that was so tight that its grip still survives. In America the church was able to handle the pedophilia crisis by purging offending priests and bishops and establishing better procedures. Because in Europe outside forces were involved in pulling the strings the systemic problem is much more complex. The Belgian raids will probably not cast any light on that problem.

(10) My expertise is not legal, but scriptural. The legal and political aspects of this crisis are highly technical, but less central than the spiritual aspects. The church has a mission statement--Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Anything that contradicts this mission must be expurgated, and if the mission is forgotten then the contradictions will flourish. This particular crisis is symptomatic of a loss of the sense of purpose. Essential to the solution is for the church to rediscover her own reason for existing.

Fr. Ponessa has provided much food for thought and prayer!

I would also like mention three other interesting facets of the larger context of the raid and the abuse scandal in Belgium. First, according to a commenter in a thread at Stand Firm, the police

…also raided - amongst other places - the office handling the Belgian hierarchy’s response to clergy sex-abuse allegations. I’m not up on the law, but I’ll leave it to you lawyers on here if that’s legal or not. An independent commission set up by the hierarchy as an impartial body to handle allegations seems to me more likely to be (1) asked for co-operation rather than have the doors kicked in (2) more likely to be working with the prosecution service than a cover-up.

Fourthly, anyone tell me that this kind of activity is any use at all other than a publicity stunt to show how seriously the Belgian authorities are taking things?

“(T)he tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Léon-Joseph Suenens, deceased archbishops of Malines-Brussels, were violated” as, reportedly acting on a tip, the authorities drilled small holes in the stones, inserting cameras to check for documents.

Really, people, do any of you seriously think that even we Evil Romanists would be so stupid as to hide incriminating documents in gravestones? This is something out of a Dan Brown novel!

Fifthly and finally, Belgium has had atrocious child abuse scandals in the past, and they were not church-related. The hideous case of the little girls kidnapped and left die of starvation is still raw in the memory of the Belgians; I’m sure you all heard of the Dutroux case:

So to wind it up, I’m not surprised the Pope was angry about the desecration of graves. I think that the police - for whatever reason - are acting like this more as a sign to the public that you bet, we’re taking this stuff seriously. I don’t think the Belgian hierarchy are any worse - though I don’t know if they’re any better - than the rest of the bishops globally. Emphatically, I do think that the Church is working to clean things up and these kind of vote-grabbing exercises don’t help the cause of justice.

Second, immediately below the above quotations in the same thread, another commenter provides the following data:

“The commission of inquiry is well-respected and is led by Peter Adriaenssens, one of Belgium’s top child abuse experts, whose office has received hundreds of complaints this year and who has threatened to resign should his work be impeded by the church hierarchy. He emerged as a national figure following the notorious Marc Dutroux paedophilia and murder case in 1996 and runs one of the country’s most respected child abuse centres.

"He voiced outrage and shock at the police actions, saying he had been given no warning, and would now struggle to deliver a report on clerical sexual abuse he was preparing for October. Adriaenssens was in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on Wednesday when his offices were raided. He said that all files in his investigation, concerning 475 cases, had been taken away by the police.

“‘All day we’ve been getting mails and calls from victims in panic,’ he said. ‘They agreed that we do a report, but they did not want others to see the material … No one asked us a single question. We have no idea why this happened now.’

"Adriaenssens suggested that a wave of ‘paranoia’ had developed around the flood of allegations coming to light in recent months in Belgium. ‘There were rumours that the commission was having secret talks with the bishops. Perhaps the investigating magistrate let himself be led by this paranoia.…’

[I continue to cite the next paragraph:

"He added that the raids had thrown into question whether his commission would be able to continue its work. It was set up years ago but had vegetated until this year when the sexual abuse allegations and revelations spread rapidly across the world. The commission's previous head had complained of a lack of co-operation from the church authorities {which is why Adriaenssens warned he would resign if church authorities did not cooperate}.]

"...Police sources told the Flemish newspaper De Standaard that the raids were carried out because of suspicions that church leaders were failing to hand over all the necessary materials to the commission of inquiry. That was not confirmed by Adriaenssens.”

I will also cite the closing lines of the story:

"Last month the Belgian bishops' conference issued a pastoral letter pleading for forgiveness both for the sexual abuse by many clergy and for the cover-ups and ‘silence’ that then followed.

‘Through the silence priority was given to the reputation of the church institution or the clergyman over the dignity of the child as victim,’ said the letter."

Fr. Ponessa's comment above about judiciary murkiness receives striking albeit circumstantial support in a BBC article featuring Adriaenssens's reaction to the raid:

Commission head Peter Adriaenssens said the commission had been used as "bait" by state prosecutors. …

Many of the files removed contained information from alleged abuse victims who had spoken in confidence.

Mr Adriaenssens, a child psychiatrist who only took over eight weeks ago, expressed concern at what could have motivated the authorities.

We received e-mails, telephone calls in the past few hours from people who are panicking about what will happen with their private details

"They could only act in that way with the sentiment that we were in the wrong or that we were trying to conceal the cases," he said.

"This while I made a point of working in complete transparency." …

"I'm mostly shocked for all these people who gave us their trust," said Mr Adriaenssens.

"And up until [Wednesday] evening, if they'd asked me is it possible that they [the police] would arrive and take everything away, just take everything away, I would have reassured them [that this would not happen]."

In the same vein, a CNN story reports that members

of a Belgian church commission that helps sexual abuse victims have resigned to protest a raid on the Catholic Church headquarters in Belgium, a spokesman for the Mechelen-Brussels Archdiocese said Monday.

The church commission members resigned en masse, said the spokesman, the Rev. Eric De Beukelaer. The commission worked with people who have been abused by clergy members.

They resigned to protest a police raid last week that Pope Benedict XVI has criticized as "deplorable." Police were searching for documents related to allegations of child abuse, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor has said.

De Beukelaer said the church regrets the resignations. He also reiterated the Catholic Church's criticisms of the raids.

"We regret (the resignations) very much because of the victims," he said, "and we also question why this search was done on such a huge scale, so out of proportion.

"They searched even in the cathedral and bored a small hole into the tomb of a deceased cardinal," he said. "Do they really expect to find documents in there?"

Similarly, an Aliazeera story reports Adriaenssens as saying, ""We are pulling out. The debate must now take place between victims, political leaders, the judiciary, the church and public opinion…." The story continues:

Following a meeting of the commission on Monday, Karlijn Demasure, a member of the body and a theology professor at the Roman Catholic Saint Paul University of Ottawa, said: "The entire committee is going to resign."

Demasure said that "trust between victims and the commission" and between "the commission and the judicial authorities" was now "broken" and that it was no longer possible to go on.

He said that Andriaenssens had stood down in the morning, and that the rest of the panel decided to follow suit, with the decision effective as of this Thursday, July 1.

The commission had been in existence for over a decade, but for most of that time, it dealt with only 30 complaints and took no discernible action on them.

Since Adriaenssens took over eight weeks ago, hundreds of men and boys had come forward and the panel received nearly 500 complaints.

The group was due to make a report to the Belgian Church in October, but Adriaenssens said prosecutors launched the raid after he told them the flood of alleged victims had slowed.

A police action like this after 8 weeks of the most vigorous action the commission has seen in a decade? Something is fishy. Time will have to tell what comes to light on both sides of the raid. In any case, it appears that the Pope's outrage at the methods of the raid––which is not to say outrage at vigorous police action for justice––is shared even by many of those "in the know" in Belgium. To disparage Adriaenssens's and the commission staff's negative reaction to the raid on account of special interests or pious weakness is a red herring at best and ignoble at worst.

Third, we must be highly, and painfully, cognizant of the larger very liberal context of Belgian Catholicism for the past several decades. I am not "pinning this on" liberals vs. conservatives, but, as Dr. Liccione pointed out in a post I cited yesterday, merely being "progressive" is not guard against moral laziness, deceit, clericalism, and cowardice. At the very least, I would say that the extremely liberal sexual atmosphere of Belgian Catholic thought provided an environment precisely in which the mendacious and sexually vicious could flourish, and, worse yet, the patent complicity of Cdl. Danneels in protecting abusers, has brought the Belgian hierarchy where it is now: a virtual state of collapse. I will cite another excerpt from Dr. Liccione's post:

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.

American Catholic amply discusses "the disgrace of Cdl. Danneels" and the very sobering article in The Brussels Journal, "The Fall of the Belgian Church," by Dr. Alexandra Colen, a Belgian House Representative and Catholic mother, just as amply validates what I mean about the viciously liberal sexual milieu of Belgian catechesis in the late 20th century. I quote most of Dr. Colen's article:

Since the revelation in April that Cardinal Danneels’s close friend and collaborator, Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, had been a practicing pedophile throughout, and even before, his career as a bishop, victims have gained confidence that they will be taken seriously, and complaints have been pouring in, both to the courts and to the extra-judicial investigation committee of the archdiocese. The new archbishop Mgr. André-Joseph Léonard, has urged victims to take their case to the courts.

His predecessor, the liberal Cardinal Danneels, who was very popular with the press in Belgium and abroad, was Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium from 1979 until 2010. The sympathy for pedophile attitudes and arguments among the Belgian bishops during this period was no secret, especially since 1997 when the fierce controversy about the catechism textbook Roeach made the headlines. The editors of Roeach were Prof. Jef Bulckens of the Catholic University of Leuven and Prof. Frans Lefevre of the Seminary of Bruges. The textbook contained a drawing which showed a naked baby girl saying: “Stroking my pussy makes me feel groovy,” “I like to take my knickers off with friends,” “I want to be in the room when mum and dad have sex.” The drawing also shows a naked little boy and girl that are “playing doctor” and the little boy says: “Look, my willy is big.”

The drawing also showed three pairs of parents. Those with the “correct” attitude reply: “Yes, feeling and stroking those little places is good fun.” This “catechism textbook” was used in the catechism lessons in the catholic schools, until one day I discovered it among the schoolbooks of my eldest daughter, then 13 years old. On 3 September 1997 I wrote a letter to Cardinal Danneels, saying:

“When I see this drawing and its message, I get the distinct impression that this catechism textbook is designed intentionally to make 13 and 14 year olds believe that toddlers enjoy genital stimulation. In this way one breeds pedophiles that sincerely believe that children actually think that what they are doing to them is ‘groovy’, while the opposite is the case.”

I told Cardinal Danneels that, although I was a member of Parliament for the Flemish-secessionist party Vlaams Blok, I was addressing him as a Catholic parent “who wishes to remain faithful to the papal authority and also wishes to educate her children this way.” I insisted that he forbid the use of this book in the catechism lessons: “This is why I insist – yes, the days of meekly asking are over – that you forbid the use of this ‘catechism book’ in our children’s classrooms.”

Today this case, that dates from 12 years ago, assumes a new and ominous significance. Especially now that I know that Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the pedophile child molesting Bishop of Bruges, was the supervising bishop of both institutions – the Catholic University of Leuven and the Seminary of Bruges – whence came the editors in chief of this perverted “catechism” textbook.

Monsignor Vangheluwe not only entertained pedophile ideas, but also practiced them on his 11-year old nephew. Hundreds of children who were not raped physically were molested spiritually during the catechism lessons. …

Meanwhile Danneels’s friends in the press started a campaign against me. “Colen continues to pester the bishops,” was the headline in Gazet van Antwerpen. One evening Toon Osaer, Danneels’s spokesman at the time, phoned me to tell me that as a Catholic I had to “be obedient” to the bishops. In Humo Danneels insinuated that I was “conducting my election campaign.”

On 5 January 1998 the daily newspaper Het Volk interviewed Patrick Vanhaelemeesch, a catechism teacher in the diocese of Bruges and one of the co-authors of Roeach. He gave some details about the illustration concerning masturbating toddlers in the catechism book. He said that the illustration was intended to convey the message that “toddlers experience sexual lust.” Vanhaelemeesch revealed that the committee of bishops had mentioned this illustration in an evaluation report of the catechism book. The report stated: “The presentation of the sexual-pedagogical attitudes is rendered ridiculous in the eyes of the pupils by the text balloons.” According to Vanhaelemeesch this criticism “indicates that the bishops had no objections at all to the message conveyed [i.e. toddlers experience sexual lust], but feared that the pupils would not take it seriously.”

When I had exhausted all possibilities and it was clear that the Belgian church did not want to hear the parents, I decided to sever all ties with the Catholic education system. I took my five children out of school and set up a homeschool together with other parents, so our children would be educated in a Catholic environment.

I sent a letter to all the cardinals in the world to inform them about the contents of the Roeach textbook. “Please be assured that this Dicastery will give your report all due consideration, answered Mgr. Clemens, Cardinal Ratzinger’s personal secretary, for the Congregation of the Faith in Rome; Cardinal Gagnon from Rome appreciated “the just battle which you are conducting”; “The matter which you raised is very important,” wrote Cardinal Arinze from Rome.

I received letters of support from cardinals from all parts of the globe. …

On 27 February 2010 the daily newspaper De Standaard wrote that these letters “enhanced Rome’s perception of the weak church leadership in Belgium.” Hence, the liberal Danneels was replaced by Mgr Léonard. Rome hopes that he will be able to restore the church in Belgium. I share this hope. However, it is a pity that it has taken so long. The damage that has been done is greater than anyone could have imagined.

Stay tuned.

Mater Dei, gratia plena, ora pro nobis, nunc et hora mortis nostrae.

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