Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop emeritus of Mechlin-Brussels, died on the morning of March 14, 2019. He had been president of the Belgian bishops conference for some 20 years and oversaw the continuing collapse of the Faith in what was once a vibrant Catholic country. For many years it was known that Danneels was an active dissenter from the perennial faith of the Church even in its Vatican II form, and yet he was never disciplined for his heterodoxy by either Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI (even when Benedict was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger).
In addition to his heterodoxy in doctrinal matters, he was also an enabler of priests and bishops who were homosexual abusers of young teenage males. He is infamously remembered for telling a young abuse victim (of Roger Vangheluwe, then-Bishop of Bruges, and a protegé of Danneels) that he should remain silent about the abuse he experienced and that the victim (who was Bishop Vangheluwe’s own nephew) was in some way guilty for the abuse (this was tape recorded).
Cardinal Danneels was also instrumental in the Conclave of 2013 which elected Pope Francis. He was such an ardent supporter that when Francis appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s immediately following his election, Danneels was by his side. By his own admission, he was a prominent member of the “St. Gallan Mafia” who lobbied for Cardinal Bergoglio’s election in the 2005 Conclave which elected Cardinal Ratzinger as Benedict XVI. Though they failed to elect him then, the members of the group were constant critics of the “conservative” Benedict XVI and were determined to see their candidate elected in the 2013 Conclave.
Given Danneels record on covering up homosexual abuse by clergy and publicly being in favor of Belgium’s law legalizing so called “same sex marriage,” Pope Francis appointed him as one of his personal representatives to the 2014 and 2015 Synod on the Family. This move by the pope produced a loud outcry from all quarters within the Church, but Francis did not back away from the Danneels appointment.
Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolence to the current Archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, which read: Having learned with emotion of the death of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussel, I send my deepest condolences to you and to his family, the Bishops of Belgium, the clergy, the consecrated persons and all the faithful affected by this mourning. This zealous pastor served the Church with dedication, not only in his diocese, but also at the national level as president of the Conference of Bishops of Belgium, while being a member of various Roman dicasteries. Attentive to the challenges of the contemporary Church, Cardinal Danneels also took an active role in various Synods of Bishops, including those of 2014 and 2015 on the family. He has been called to God at this time of purification and of walking toward the Resurrection of the Lord. I ask Christ, victor over evil and death, to welcome him in His peace and joy. As a pledge of comfort, I offer a special apostolic blessing to you and to the relatives of the deceased Cardinal, the pastors, the faithful and all those who will take part in the funeral.
There is little doubt that Pope Francis’ praise of Danneels at his death, as well as his desire to appoint him as his special representative of the two Synods on the Family, must call into question how seriously the pope takes the current scandal of sexual abuse within the Church. This is particularly evident given Pope Francis’ role in the Theodore McCarrick affair attested to by Archbishop Viganó in his written testimony last year, as well as other equally disturbing examples of papal coverups which are becoming almost too numerous to recall.
In the early 2000s, the homosexual abuse of young men by clerics came to the attention of the Church in the United States (and indeed throughout the world) by an exposé published in the Boston Globe newspaper which uncovered the malfeasance of the Archbishops of Boston in allowing predator clerics to remain in active ministry. Other media outlets then took up their own investigations and found that this malfeasance wasn’t limited to the Archdiocese of Boston, but could be found in many, if not most, of the Catholic dioceses in the United States.
When the full extent of the malfeasance became known, there was a very legitimate outcry from the laity as well as faithful priests for something to be done. The solution, from the American bishops, was the so-called Dallas Charter which gave a protocol for bishops to follow in the event of a reported case of abuse of a minor by a cleric (deacon or priest). The protocol was simple enough: when a report of abuse came to the diocese, the cleric in question would be suspended pending the outcome of a review of the complaint by a board of laity who were “expert” in the various facets of suspected abuse. If the report was found to be “credible and substantiated,” the cleric would be permanently removed from ministry and the case would be referred to the Vatican for a Canonical trial and punishment. Also, at the time the complaint was received, the civil authorities would be contacted to mount their own investigation for possible criminal charges to be brought against the cleric.
Several things should be noted regarding the Dallas Charter:
Firstly, Canon Law (in both the 1917 and 1983 Codes) indicate procedures to be followed by bishops (or superiors of religious orders) when a cleric under their charge commits a crime (sin) against the 6th or 9th Commandment and the punishments to be meted out on the guilty party. The real scandal was that most American bishops simply chose not to enforce Canon Law, for whatever reason. Had they done so, there would have been no scandal in the first place.
Secondly, the Dallas Charter purposefully omitted mentioning bishops in the procedures to be followed. Thus, a bishop accused of abuse was not subject to the same protocol that was laid down for deacons and priests. This should come as no surprise since the purported author of the Dallas Charter was none other than Theodore McCarrick; a bishop who had been a serial abuser for at least the past 25 years. The sad truth is that those fully responsible for the scandal (the bishops) made no attempt to police their own.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significant, was that an important principle concerning the hierarchical nature of the Church was sacrificed when the American bishops adopted the Dallas Charter. The principle was that clerics (be they deacons, priests or bishops) can only be judged by their equals (that is, ecclesiastical courts made up of clerics) and if they are found guilty in an ecclesiastical court, they are to be removed from the clerical state and turned over to the civil authorities for trial and punishment if their offense was also a crime under civil law. This was the principle which St. Thomas Becket endured martyrdom to defend. As the noted Italian historian Roberto de Mattei recently pointed out in an interview, The Church which has its own penal law and tribunals needs to have the courage to challenge the judgment of the world’s tribunals, convinced that it is not the world that judges the Church, but the Church that judges the world. The Church should reclaim her sovereignty… I find it extremely serious that the Church has renounced her sovereignty. The Church is a sovereign society, like the State, even if her purpose, unlike the State, is supernatural…If the Church is a sovereign society, it has all the instruments to achieve its own ends of justice. It is not only a purely ethical organism, which strips itself of its judicial dimension, allowing the State to decide everything. The renunciation of sovereignty is a dangerous development.1
The Dallas Charter effectively turns the judging of clerics over to the laity (either on the “Lay Review Boards” or the civil authorities) thus making the Church answerable to the State. What has now become de riguerthroughout the world, civil tribunals pass judgment on clerics and then the Church takes up the case after having been adjudicated in civil court. The cases of both Cardinal Pell of Australia and Cardinal Barbarin of France prove the point: they were both found guilty (questionably so, it should be said) in civil courts and are now to be tried in ecclesiastical court.
The Church finds herself in this position since the bishops of the Church, almost to a man, have not done their duty. Their malfeasance has resulted in the sad situation where the civil authority seems to be the only means whereby bishops can be dealt with for their sinful and faithless actions. Sadly, now that the state has stepped in to identify and root out bishops who have failed in their duty to punish abusive clerics, the question must be asked: how much further will the various governments go in trying to control the Church herself?
Unfortunately we have already begun to taste the effects of giving up the Church’s sovereignty in regard to the seal of the confessional. Last year, an Australian Royal Commission into child abuse recommended that clergy be required to report to the civil authority any act of abuse they become aware of during the sacrament of penance.
This past February, a bill was introduced in the California state legislature requiring Catholic priests and other “Christian ministers” to report abuse they become aware of through confession. On March 16th, a member of the New York state legislature introduced a similar bill to that legislature. Although neither the California nor New York bill has yet to come up for a vote in the legislature, given the current climate, its chances of passing are rather great. There can now be little doubt that other states will follow suit.
Although one may rightly ask if laws of this nature could really be enforced since no one but the priest and the penitent would know if abuse has been confessed. As true as this is, is there really any doubt that civil authorities would begin running “sting” operations in order to entrap priests? A police officer posing as a penitent could enter the confessional and confess to abusing a child—if the priest doesn’t report it, he is arrested and charged with failing to report a case of abuse. We are entering a very dark time for the Church.
It is of the greatest irony, that the Catholic teaching on the seal of the confessional became the source of a civil law protecting the priest/penitent relationship. In his book, A Popular history of the Archdiocese of New York, Monsignor Florence Cohalan writes: Although the old Cathedral is his monument, Fr. Kohlmann’s [Vicar General of the Diocese of New York] most important contribution to the welfare of the Church in New York was his role in a lawsuit that brought legal protection to the seal of the confessional in New York and later throughout the country. In March 1813, acting on information received in the confessional, he became the intermediary by whom stolen goods were returned to their owner. When he refused to tell the police or the grand jury or the courts who had given him the goods, his case was put off for further consideration and and was settled finally by a friendly lawsuit. The case was argued on June 8, 1813, before the Court of General Sessions presided over by Mayor DeWitt Clinton. The full court decided unanimously in Fr. Kohlmann’s favor. Later, in 1828, when Clinton was Governor of New York, he persuaded the legislature to pass a law not only allowing but requiring priests and ministers of religion to withhold confidential information.2 This incident occurred when the Church vigorously defended her sovereignty against all civil authority; we are now living in a period in history when those who should have been the defenders of the independence of the Church have sacrificed it on the altar of expediency and public opinion.
As substantial and dangerous as the sacrificing the principle is, particularly as we move forward in history, one cannot ignore another aspect of the Dallas Charter which is also having far reaching ramifications to this very day: the presumption of guilt. At the time an accusation is deemed “credible” by the Lay Board of Review, the cleric is removed immediately from active ministry. It should be noted that a “credible” accusation is one that is not clearly false on initial review. Thus, the cleric in question is effectively punished even before being found guilty of any wrongdoing—hence the presumption of guilt.
Even if, after further investigation, the cleric is exonerated, his good name has invariably been besmirched and, in many cases, beyond redemption. As Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote in his critique of the Dallas Charter in 2004: At the time when accusations are made, it is often impossible to judge their truth, and this impossibility may persist indefinitely if the accusations are denied and probative evidence is lacking. When dioceses routinely announce that accused priests have been “removed from public ministry because of a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor,” such priests are, in effect, branded as guilty. An accusation is deemed credible unless it is manifestly groundless. When priests are treated as guilty, they suffer the loss of their good name and as a consequence find it difficult in the future to function effectively in their God-given vocation, assuming that they are restored to ministry.3 Some 15 years later the United States bishops have still not found an effective way to restore the good name of a wrongfully accused cleric, something which the 1983 Code of Canon Law insists is the right (restoration of a good name) of every person wrongfully accused.
Although the bishops have seen fit to ignore the importance of presumed innocence, some secular writers have not, particularly in light of the “#metoo” movement. The concern is not just for wrongfully accused clerics (who the secular media seems to care little about), but for anyone accused given the current climate. An op-ed piece in the New York Daily News written by two women attorneys recently appeared. In it, the attorneys stated the following: This moment [the time of the #metoo movement] offers an important opportunity for individuals who are compelled to share their stories [of abuse] and seek justice. But the moment is equally dangerous—as it has the potential to unleash a plethora of unfounded claims from which there is no recovery. The accusation alone of child sexual abuse is enough to forever destroy a person’s reputation, personal relationships and employability…
Incorrect identifications occur far too often, and they may be enhanced by the prospect of implanted and fabricated memories of emotional childhood events. The presumption of innocence along with the constitutional guarantees to legal counsel, the right against self-incrimination, and fundamental fairness at a criminal trial sets our democracy apart…
Recognizing that the levers of justice require periodic realignment, New York State has significantly lowered the bar for prosecution of child predators. On Feb. 14, Gov. Cuomo signed the Child Victim’s Act, which extends the statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of a sexual offense committed against a child, and shall not begin to run until the child turns 23 years of age. The law also establishes a “look-back window” where victims can file civil lawsuits up to 18 months after the effective date of the statute for previously barred claims and a civil suit can be brought up until the plaintiff reaches the age of 55 years old…
While this law most certainly smooths victims’ path to justice, it could also lead to bad actors posing as victims, extorting funds, suing needlessly for damages and exacting revenge on innocent persons. The tragedy of these incidents is that they not only ruin lives of the wrongfully accused, but they make life considerably more difficult for real survivors who have suffered unimaginable abuse, and fought long and hard to be heard.4
Although the bishops’ collective malfeasance regarding removing offending clerics is wholly to blame for this very dangerous state of affairs, one must not forget the role insurance companies are playing as well when it comes to the presumption of guilt. In almost all cases, the insurers of American dioceses and religious orders insist on settling civil cases without a trial. When this occurs, the accused cleric has no opportunity to clear his name in a court of law and because the diocese or religious order has paid (through their insurance company) the accuser a settlement, it appears to the general public that the cleric must be guilty. This, of course, makes it impossible for the cleric’s good name to be restored.
The Dallas Charter has thus violated the important principle of the Church’s sovereignty as well as the principle of “innocence until proven guilty” as enshrined in American jurisprudence. It has never been a more important time for the faithful to pray for their priests.
2 Cohalan, Florence, A Popular History of the Archdiocese of New York. Yonkers, N.Y.: United States Catholic Historical Society, 1983.
In the latter part of 2018, the homosexual abuse of young men on the part of clerics came roaring back to the front pages with the report that, after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been credibly accused of molesting a teenage male in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral some 50 years before. Following that announcement, many more facts emerged indicating that this was not an isolated incident but rather that McCarrick was a serial abuser of seminarians and young priests who were in his charge. In response, Pope Francis asked for McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals and effectively suspended him from exercising any priestly ministry (a suspension “a divinis”) until an investigation was carried out under Canon Law.
This investigation was concluded and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued the following statement:
On January 11, 2019, the Congresso of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the conclusion of a penal process, issued a decree finding Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: solicitation in the sacrament of confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power. The Congresso imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state. On February 13, 2019, the Ordinary Session (Feria IV) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the recourse he presented against this decision. Having examined the arguments in the recourse, the Ordinary Session confirmed the decree of the Congresso. This decision was notified to Theodore McCarrick on February 15, 2019. The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with law, rendering it a “res iudicata” (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).
With this decree, McCarrick is no longer to be referred to as “bishop” or even “father” but simply as “mister.” Although dismissed from the “clerical state,” McCarrick still is, by virtue of the indelible character imprinted on the soul through the sacrament of holy orders, a priest and bishop, though absolutely forbidden to exercise the associated powers of their orders except in a case of “danger of death.”
Although the Vatican and Pope Francis obviously hoped this decree would have put an end to the current scandal unleashed upon the Church, it has had the opposite effect simply because so many questions remain unanswered by the Vatican regarding the entire affair.
Additionally, the day before the publication of the decree reducing McCarrick to the lay state, the following announcement was published by the Vatican: The pope has appointed as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church His Eminence Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. The Camerlengo is the Cardinal who effectively organizes the conclave when a pope dies and runs the day-to-day operations of the Church during the sede vacante before the election of the new pope.
It should be recalled that Farrell is a protegé of McCarrick, served as an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington during McCarrick’s tenure there and denied any knowledge of rumors concerning McCarrick’s predilection for young seminarians and priests. Thus, Pope Francis has seemingly softened the blow to McCarrick by naming a protegé to the important post of Camerlengo. Once again, Francis has, by his actions rather than his words, indicated that he does not take the McCarrick case very seriously.
As has been written of before in this space, there has been a protracted legal battle between the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria (in the person of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s niece, Joan Sheen Cunningham) as to whether Sheen’s mortal remains could be removed from the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and sent to Peoria in order that his case for beatification could proceed. It now appears that the courts have had their final say.
In early March of this year, a New York Appeals Court handed down a unanimous ruling in favor of Mrs. Cunningham. The justices found that Sheen’s desire to be entombed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral would not have been as compelling as seeing his cause for beatification proceed. Although the ruling seems definitive, the Archdiocese of New York has stated that its attorneys would be reviewing the ruling to decide what next steps could be taken.
For some inexplicable reason, Timothy Cardinal Dolan has adamantly refused to abide by a promise made by his predecessor in the New York Archdiocese, Cardinal Edward Egan, that Sheen’s body could be moved to Peoria. Before earlier court rulings the Archdiocese has said that it will not proceed with Archbishop Sheen’s cause and would not agree to release his remains. Although the Archdiocese of New York is now indicating that it DOES want to erect a shrine for Sheen in St. Patrick’s and proceed with his cause, this reversal seems to be nothing more than a smoke screen as to the real intentions of Dolan and the Archdiocesan Chancery. One must be forced to ask the simple question: What possible reason could the Archdiocese of New York (or Cardinal Dolan personally) have to want to see Archbishop Sheen’s cause for beatification move forward? Too many unanswered questions from a Cardinal who always speaks of wanting greater “transparency.”