At least in the English-language world, commentary on the latest allegation of clerical sex abuse — this time levied against a Belgian cardinal — has been necessarily tentative because most of the source documents remain in Dutch, and even then appear incomplete.
But in a nutshell, two Dutch-language papers have published the (partial) transcripts of secret tape recordings made by a sex abuse victim in April meetings with Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who retired in January as head of the Mechelen-Brussel archdiocese.
The abuser? A fellow Belgian bishop who resigned in disgrace shortly after the recordings were made. The victim? His now 42-year-old nephew, whom he had abused for 13 years, both before and after his 1985 consecration as bishop.
But the fresh scandal is that the transcripts show Cardinal Danneels — a few short weeks after Pope Benedict XVI's impassioned public plea to Irish bishops this spring to address abuse allegations with "decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency" — counseling the victim to accept a private apology and let his uncle finish out his last year of active ministry before reaching retirement age.
The cardinal's lawyer and spokesman both have forcefully denied that his actions could be characterized as a cover-up, say the transcript has been taken out of context, and say the cardinal was misled by the abuser-bishop.
Be that as it may, they don't dispute that Cardinal Danneels did not initiate or insist that the abuse be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as Church law has required since 2001. Doing so would have in no way violated the victim's then-request that he not be publically identified as an abuse victim, one argument the cardinal's staff seemed to make to justify his inaction.
Less convincing a defense was his lawyer's wink-wink reference to Cardinal Danneels' well-known prickly relations with Rome and its rules over the years. “Cardinal Danneels has never paid that much attention to procedure," the lawyer said, according to The New York Times. "Cardinal Danneels is a pastor, he’s trying to achieve reconciliation.”
Reconciliation is important. But what he doesn't seem to get is that justice for the victim is, too.