Cardinal Danneels: A Wolf in Shepherd’s Clothing

The smarmy, insidious appeal of liberal theology's "mercy" without repentance

By John Zmirak Published on October 18, 2015

This week I read one of the sweetest Christian essays I’ve ever encountered. Written by a frail and elderly pastor who has spent decades shepherding souls, it was delivered to the ongoing Vatican Synod on the Family. Here is a snippet, but be sure and go read the whole thing yourself:

[D]eep in every man, in every woman, there is a hidden place where someone lives, someone who always listens and offers a saving word. It is the place where God lives; where His Spirit lives in us.

That place is called “the home of mercy.”

The Hebrew word for mercy (rahamin) does not know the word “heart”, but uses the word “womb” (uterus). For in that “womb of mercy” there is tenderness and security, which is even greater than marital intimacy. In God’s house, man is secure as in the womb. Man is at home there. There is true listening and speaking there. God lives in the “home of mercy”: He listens, speaks, heals and forgives with a mother’s tenderness. Even when her child’s situation is hopeless, a mother knows how to be a mother.

God lives there, as a shepherd, the great shepherd. But there are also “little shepherds.” The priests in the first place, but there are also many lay people who are shepherds. Is there a man or woman to whom no lamb is entrusted? The little shepherds are part of the house staff of the “home of mercy.” Thanks be given to all little shepherds — priests and laity — in God’s field.

The consoling vision offered here of the love and mercy of God, and the role that mercy should play in our lives and in the church, reached in and touched my soul. And the fact that it did is chilling.

Because the statement came from Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium. In case you don’t follow European church politics, Daneels is one of the most destructive theological radicals in the Catholic church. When Belgium legalized same-sex “marriage,” the cardinal congratulated the government for doing so. As Vatican Insider reports, the cardinal went on to say: “The Church has never objected to the fact that there is a sort of ‘marriage’ between homosexuals.” Of course, this is nonsense; the Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes scripture in calling the conjugal behavior in such “sort of” marriages “acts of grave moral depravity.” (CCC, 2357)

Belgium as a nation was created by devout Catholics who felt disadvantaged in the Calvinist-dominated Netherlands. From its founding until the 1970s, Belgium was the home of a thriving church which produced many missionaries — such as St. Damien of Molokai, the priest who traveled across the world to Hawaii to care for abandoned lepers. But as LifeSiteNews reports, quoting a recent biography of Danneels, during the 30 years that he led the Belgian church

the country was secularized at a “phenomenal rate.” Churches emptied and the Christian-Democrats lost their traditional influence over Belgian politics.

Belgium is now one of the most “progressive” countries in the world. It was one of the first countries to legalize euthanasia, together with the Netherlands but in more sweeping terms. It was also the second country in the world to make same-sex “marriage” legal, one year after the Netherlands, and it allows single women to obtain assisted reproduction.

Abortion was legalized relatively late in Belgium, compared to its European neighbors, in 1990; Danneels is said to have tried at the time to convince King Baudouin to sign the abortion bill into law even though the monarch was deeply reluctant to go against his conscience in this matter.

The collapse of the Belgian church under Danneels’ leadership was so precipitous that Pope John Paul II spoke out publicly about it in 2003.

Danneels also presided over one of the worst priestly sex abuse scandals in Europe, whose cover-up was so extensive that it led to Belgian police searching a bishop’s palace and even opening a bishop’s grave to search for evidence. As Brussels Journal reported:

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.

Police also confiscated 450 files containing reports of pedophile offences by members of the clergy. …

The most appalling case with which Danneels was involved was of his close friend and collaborator, Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, a longtime pedophile who was molesting his own nephew. According to two former priests, Danneels knew all about it:

The daily De Standaard newspaper reported that two former Belgian priests, Fathers Rik Deville and Norbert Bethune had personally informed Cardinal Danneels about Bishop Vangheluwe’s child sexual abuse several times between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Father Deville told the Associated Press that he told Cardinal Danneels about a number of sexual-abuse cases. “The cardinal sometimes got angry and said it was not my job, that I should not get involved,” Deville said.

The Spectator (U.K.) cites transcripts of a meeting where Danneels was caught on tape urging the victim to stay silent about the abuse, after which he “suggested that the victim should seek forgiveness — and accused the man of attempted blackmail when he demanded that Danneels should tell Pope Benedict XVI about the abuse.”

Okay, now that you know all this, please go back and re-read Danneels’ essay on mercy. Read it slowly and soberly. Does it offer a genuine Christian vision of a just but loving God? Or a wish-fulfillment fantasy of God as our senile “grandfather in heaven”? (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain) Is the forgiveness it promises the same as Jesus offered the woman caught in adultery, which culminates in, “Go and sin no more”? Or are these the sweet words of a co-conspirator, who promises to help you hide the evidence and even to silence the victims?

Yes, it is possible to picture God as such a stark and unflinching Judge that we might doubt He even exists — or hope that He doesn’t. But outside of certain tiny subcultures, that is not a problem for Christians. Let Muslims worry about that — the Muslims who are inundating and will someday rule over the squishy, post-Christian Belgians. What Danneels and his allies at the Synod — including Chicago’s Archbishop Cupich who wants to admit practicing homosexuals to Holy Communion — risk is the opposite error: A God who is not so much implausible as contemptible, a Christ who laid down His life as a red carpet on which we could strut and preen, sashaying in our favorite sins.

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