Belgian cardinal defamed by abuse cover-up report: lawyer

1st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The former head of the Belgian Catholic church was defamed by a newspaper report accusing him of trying to cover up the sexual abuse of a minor by the former bishop of Bruges, his lawyer said.

The Flemish daily De Standaard published on Saturday the transcripts of a conversation taped on April 8 between Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the victim and Roger Vangheluwe, who was still bishop at the time.

In the tape, Danneels, who headed the church between 1979-2009, asks the victim to accept an apology from Vangheluwe, or at least not make his allegations public until the bishop retired a year later.

The cardinal's attorney, Fernand Keuleneer, said on Tuesday that De Standaard "voluntarily and deliberately defamed" Danneels by selecting certain extracts and underlining passages of the transcript in red.

Danneels had not been able to prepare for the confrontation and his reactions had been "instantaneous," the attorney said in a statement published on the website of the Catholic daily Tertio.

"Like any person in that situation, he then wanted to continue to think more at length about these issues in view of a second meeting that never took place," Keuleneer said.

"This has nothing to do with a plot or a cover-up. Cardinal Danneels listened and thought about it, without a result," he said.

"Two weeks later, Monsignor Vangheluwe resigned. Cardinal Danneels had also come to the conclusion that that was the only adequate way of proceeding."

Tertio reported that De Standaard refused to published the attorney's response.

Vangheluwe, 73, resigned on April 23, after admitting to sexually abusing a boy -- his nephew -- for more than a decade.

Danneels has rejected accusations that he had known about the abuse for a long time and denied trying to keep them quiet.

Last month Danneels was questioned by police for more than 10 hours as part of a probe into sexual abuse by priests.

Belgium is one of the countries worst hit by a rising tide of revelations of paedophilia by Roman Catholic priests in Europe and North America.

© 2010 AFP

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