Godfried Danneels

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His Eminence
Godfried Danneels
Cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels
Bloedprocessie Mgr Danneels.JPG
Archdiocese Mechelen-Brussels
Province Mechelen-Brussels
Appointed 19 December 1979
Term ended 18 January 2010
Predecessor Leo Joseph Suenens
Successor André-Joseph Léonard
Other posts
  • Cardinal-Priest of Sant'Anastasia al Palatino
Ordination 17 August 1957
by Emiel-Jozef De Smedt
Consecration 18 December 1977
by Leo Jozef Suenens
Created cardinal 2 February 1983
by Pope John Paul II
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name Godfried Maria Jules Danneels
Born (1933-06-04) 4 June 1933 (age 85)
Kanegem, Tielt
Nationality Belgian
Denomination Roman Catholic
Occupation Theologian
Previous post
Alma mater Catholic University of Leuven, Pontifical Gregorian University
Coat of arms Godfried Danneels's coat of arms
Styles of
Godfried Danneels
Coat of arms of Godfried Danneels.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Mechelen-Brussels
Cardinal Danneels in full choir dress (left)

Godfried Maria Jules Danneels (born 4 June 1933) is a Belgian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and the chairman of the episcopal conference of his native country from 1979 to 2010. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1983. His resignation at the age of 75 was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on 18 January 2010.

Early life and studies[edit]

Born in Kanegem, West Flanders, Godfried Danneels was the eldest of six siblings. He owed his vocation to the priesthood to a priest he had as a teacher in high school, Daniel Billiet.[1] Like a few other bright candidates for the priesthood from West Flanders, Danneels did not enter the episcopal Seminary of Bruges after he finished high school, but was sent directly to the Higher Institute of Philosophy of the Catholic University of Leuven, there to follow a three-year course of Neo Scholastic philosophy (1951–1954). Leuven, with which he remained "in love" his entire life, opened the world for him intellectually.[2] From Leuven he was sent to Rome, where he studied Catholic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University whilst living in the Belgian Papal College (1954–1959). With a few exceptions, he judged the quality of his courses there inferior to those in Leuven, but Rome greatly enriched him culturally.[3] Danneels obtained his bachelor's degree in June 1956, his license in 1958, and his doctorate in 1961.[4]

His results as a student were uniformly excellent, with two symptomatic exceptions in Rome: an A– for canon law, revealing his lack of interest in the finesses of canon law, which would remain with him all his life, and a magna cum laude for his license, due to a mediocre exam in Institutiones systematico-historicae liturgicae, a course that was heavily inspired by canon law and which required memorizing the countless rubrics of the Tridentine liturgy.[5]


Well before the end of his studies, he was ordained by Emiel Jozef De Smedt, Bishop of Brugge in a ceremony in the Kanegem parish church on 17 August 1957, the 25th wedding anniversary of his parents.[6]

Professor and pastor[edit]

In 1959, De Smedt appointed him spiritual director of the Bruges episcopal seminary and at the same time professor of liturgy and spirituality. In 1960 he also took over Frans Neirynck's course on the sacraments.

His study of the literature on liturgy made him evolve from a Rome-educated and initially conservative liturgist into a modern one, and a well-known one, thanks to his articles in the Dictionary of the Liturgy.[7] The claim that he was actively involved in writing Sacrosanctum Concilium[7] is dubious, for he did not attend the Second Vatican Council. But he did play a very active role in the implementation of the liturgical reforms of Sacrosanctum Concilium, not only in the Bruges diocese, but in all of Belgium and even abroad. He was very much taken with these reforms, for in Belgium and the Netherlands many had been foreshadowed in liturgical experiments. However, he did not plead liturgical revolution in his writings and talks, favoring steady and measured innovation instead. Even so, from the middle sixties he felt pressurized by Rome (in particular by cardinal Giacomo Lercaro), which was trying get a firmer grip on the liturgical journals in which he wrote.[8]

On 8 July 1969, Danneels was appointed lector at the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Leuven. Initially the appointment was for two years, but Danneels was to stay until 31 January 1978,[9] shortly after he was consecrated bishop. In Leuven he became thoroughly interested in what was to become his "hobby horse",[10] the interlocking of theology and humanism, which he was to develop throughout his life in both his academic and his pastoral writings. The latter too were numerous and important, for when he was relieved of his spiritual directorship at the Bruges seminar in the summer of 1967, he was put in charge of the continuing education of the priests of the Bruges diocese.[11]


Ordination history of
Godfried Danneels
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated by Leo Joseph Suenens
Date 18 December 1977
Place St. James' Church, Antwerp
Elevated by Pope John Paul II
Date 2 februari 1983
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Godfried Danneels as principal consecrator
Paul Van den Berghe 1980
Paul Lanneau 1982
Rémy Vancottem 1982
Luc De Hovre 1982
Roger Vangheluwe 1985
Albert Houssiau 1986
Jan De Bie 1987
André-Joseph Léonard 1991
Arthur Luysterman 1991
Aloys Jousten 2001
Cardinal De Kesel 2002
Guy Harpigny 2003
Luc Van Looy 2004
Johan Bonny 2009

On 4 November 1977, Danneels was named Bishop of Antwerp by Pope Paul VI. He received his episcopal consecration on the following 18 December from Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens; co-consecrators were his predecessor Jules Victor Daem and his Bruges bishop De Smedt. The consecration, in a Dutch-language rite in whose development Danneels himself had been involved as a liturgist, took place in St. James', as the Antwerp cathedral was being restored at the time.

Three days after his consecration he invited Catholics to write him personally with suggestions for their new bishop and he made the rounds of his diocese to consult with people. He used the media, extensively and successfully, to expound his vision of Christian humanism. In this he can be claimed to have been "modern". But in many ways he was traditional and careful of what Rome desired. From the beginning of his episcopacy, he faced an acute problem of numerous priests leaving their ministry. In spite of this, he energetically defended the traditional demand of the Church that priests remain celibate. In July 1978 he was appointed a member of the Curial Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, just at the time when Edward Schillebeeckx was first investigated by the Congregation. In the face of great pressure from the Leuven Faculty of Theology, he did not intervene on Schillebeeckx's behalf.

Encouraged and aided by his predecessor, Danneels began to build what was to become a very extensive network, which included numerous Belgian politicians. This would be important for his work in the next station of his life.[12]

Archbishop and cardinal[edit]

Promotion to archbishop and creation as cardinal[edit]

Danneels was promoted to the Archbishopric of Mechelen-Brussel on 19 December 1979. He thus became Primate of Belgium, president of the Belgian Conference of Catholic Bishops, chancellor of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the Université catholique de Louvain and head of the nation's Catholic military ordinariate, at first as vicar, from 1987 as bishop.[13]

Pope John Paul II followed the tradition that the Mechelen archbishop be made a cardinal, and created him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Anastasia in the consistory of 2 February 1983.[14]

Survey of his career as cardinal-archbishop[edit]

There are two rather distinct periods in Danneels' career as Cardinal-Archbishop. In its first ten to fifteen years, Danneels' relations with Rome were excellent. He was appointed to a number of pontifical congregations and councils. In addition to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to which he had already been appointed in 1978, he was a member of:[15]

He was also a member of the permanent secretariat of the episcopal synod and participated in a number of synods[16] But his own enthusiasm about the government of the Church by the Vatican waned. He did not approve of the way Pope John Paul II restricted the role of bishops' conferences like CELAM (1992)[17] and especially of CCEE (1993).,[18] in which he played a prominent role until 1993. The bishops' synods were being reduced to rubber stamping the decisions of Rome, and neither the bishops' collegiality nor Vatican centralism could be discussed.[19]

The result of this change was threefold:[20]

  • As Rome was perceived to turn to the right, Danneels, who considers himself an "extreme centrist", was more and more perceived as a leftist or a liberal, in spite of himself.
  • As Danneels gradually increased the distance between himself and Rome, his popularity at home increased and he became the face of the Catholic Church in Belgium, to the local issues of which he devoted more and more of his time.
  • He also devoted more and more of his time to international tasks, which often involved his diplomatic abilities as well as his prestige.

After the 2013 conclave (see below) he again felt at ease in Rome, but by then he had already retired as archbishop.

The following sections discuss his activities and—often controversial—standpoints with regard to various issues.

Danneels and the Belgian court[edit]

As primate of Belgium, Danneels officiated at every great ceremony at the royal court.

Royal baptisms[edit]

Royal funerals[edit]

Royal marriages[edit]

Danneels' relations with the court are good, but not particularly close. He has even denied having a close relationship with King Boudewijn, whom he saw often[21] and whom he greatly admired.[22]


Danneels participated in a number of synods of bishops[23] and played a prominent role in some of them, notably in:

Special Assembly for the Netherlands (14–31 January 1980)[edit]

Danneels chaired this synod, on "The Pastoral Situation in the Netherlands", , together with cardinal Johannes Willebrands. Its central task was to overcome the divisions that were plaguing the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and the widening gap between Rome and many Dutch Catholics. Its final document was signed by all participants, but it was poorly received in the Netherlands, and the conflicts between the Dutch bishops among themselves and between some of them and their flocks continued.[24]

Fifth Ordinary General Assembly (26 September – 25 October 1980)[edit]

Its theme was "The Christian Family". In a speech ("My best synod speech ever") Danneels stressed the values that were the foundations of Humanae vitae, but called for objectively analyzing the reasons why so many Catholics refused its teachings, and pointed out that many divorced Catholics no longer saw how canon law could be reconciled with the demands of God's mercy. Toward the end of the synod, on 24 October, his prestige was such that he was elected a member of the general secretariat of the bishops' synods with 124 votes, outpolling even cardinals Ratzinger (121 votes) and Hume (110 votes).[25]

Second Extraordinary General Assembly (25 November – 8 December 1985)[edit]

Devoted to "The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council", its discussions revolved around the question "Shall we put the brakes on Vatican II, or shall we continue or even go beyond it?" Danneels was appointed its General Relator (rapporteur), and in this task he was assisted by Walter Kasper, then still a theology professor. Their final report was praised by the Pope and accepted almost unanimously.[26] But its conclusions could be, and were, interpreted in both directions, and it left many decisions up to Rome, thus putting no stop to the centralizing tendencies in the Church.[27]

Special Assembly for Europe (1–23 October 1999)[edit]

Its theme was "Jesus Christ, Alive in His Church, Source of Hope for Europe". Danneels' speech attacking the cultural pessimism prevalent among a number of Roman prelates impressed many council fathers as well as Pope John Paul II, who allowed him to go beyond the allotted time.[28]

Third Extraordinary General Assembly (5–19 October 2014)[edit]

This was popularly known as the "Synod on the Family"; officially it was about "Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization". Danneels' intervention was brief,[29] but his presence at the synod was notable, as it followed a personal invitation by Pope Francis.[30]

Danneels and liberation theology[edit]

Danneels was aware of the risks of liberation theology and its political dimension. But when on 6 August 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Libertatis nuntius, its Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation" without even consulting him, though he was a member, he publicly denounced it in several interviews, for its procedure and, more importantly, for its overly intellectual approach of the concept of freedom, which failed to take seriously the pains caused by poverty and by political and military oppression. He was instrumental in preventing a condemnation of his friend Gustavo Gutiérrez, and he was pleased that the follow-up of Libertatis nuntius, Libertatis conscientia, the Congregation's "Instruction of Christian Freedom and Liberation", did not proclaim a definitive condemnation of liberation theology.[31]

Danneels and the Belgian constitutional crisis over abortion[edit]

In March and April 1990, King Boudewijn's refusal to sign the law liberalizing abortion, drafted by Roger Lallemand and by Lucienne Herman-Michielsens and approved by Parliament, provoked a constitutional crisis. Both Danneels and Prime Minister Wilfried Martens had foreseen the King's refusal, and in the spring of 1989, Danneels had offered Martens to mediate in case of just such a crisis.[32] Danneels had often discussed the moral dilemma the King faced, but denies mediating after the King's decision was taken.[33] The words of two Ministers of State, Philippe Moureaux and Mark Eyskens, have been interpreted as meaning that he did. But neither Moureaux ["On évoquait une discrète et prudente intervention du cardinal" (A discreet and prudent intervention of the cardinal was recalled)] nor Eyskens ["Maar geen enkel resultaat" (But no result whatsoever)] say this in so many words.[34] They may just as well have alluded to the earlier talks between Danneels and the King.

In a number of reactions to the VTM broadcast it has been claimed that Danneels counseled the King to sign the Lallemand–Herman Michielsens law.[35] So did, for example, "The Radical Catholic",[36] Jeanne Smits, a correspondent of Lifesite[37] and an anonymous "Belgian Reader" on the Rorate-Caeli blogspot.[38] However, whatever Danneels said in conversations with the King, before, during or after this constitutional crisis, he has always respected any "colloque singulier"[39] he had with the King. Since King Boudewijn is dead, no one but Danneels himself actually knows what he told the King. The claim that he advised the King to sign is pure speculation.

Danneels flatly denies he did: "Ik heb alvast nooit geprobeerd hem om te praten" (I certainly never tried to talk him [the King] round).[21] Shortly after the law was published in the Belgian official journal, the Belgian bishops, including Danneels, issued a declaration in which they distinguished what is legally acceptable and what is morally desirable, and they unambiguously rejected the law morally.[40] Danneels has never wavered from the conviction that "a society that encourages abortion of those that are born in the margins of society or that do not have the chance to be loved abandons its humanizing role and ultimately condemns itself".[41]

Member of the group of Sankt Gallen[edit]

On 3 January 1999, Danneels became a member of the group of Sankt Gallen. This group of cardinals, bishops and archbishops had been started in 1996 by the bishop of Sankt Gallen, Ivo Fürer. After the Vatican's treatment of the CCEE in 1993, he and a number of European bishops felt they could no longer speak freely and openly about the governance of the church. Its members "believed that what was needed was a thorough reform of governance, a restoration of the balance between the local and universal Churches". In the Sankt-Gallen group they could discuss this, for they observed a few simple rules: "everything could be said, no notes were taken, and discretion was required."[42] These self-imposed rules led to the group calling themselves jocularly "the mafia", as Danneels revealed in a VTM program on 23 September 2015.[43] From 2003 on, a recurrent theme in the group of Sankt Gallen was the preparation of the post-John-Paul II era. They knew that the decentralization of the government of the Church which they considered necessary would not happen if Ratzinger were elected pope. For, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger had argued that the universal Church was "ontologically prior" to the local one.[44] Many members also knew that Bergoglio favored more stress on episcopal collegiality, for at the 2001 synod of bishops, which Danneels and other members of the group attended, he had in a seemingly evasive but deft answer said that collegiality needed discussion "elsewhere [than in that synod] and with adequate preparation".[45]

Some pundits[46] have claimed that this "mafia" worked to elect cardinal Bergoglio and were opposed to Ratzinger. That is misleading, and, to the extent the claim is that they were against Ratzinger as a person, downright wrong. Had the group of Sankt Gallen been a lobby for Bergoglio, they would certainly have contacted him before the 2003 conclave, which they didn't.[47] Nor could they have lobbied for him before or during the 2013 conclave, for what was left of the group met for the last time in January 2006.[48] What is true is that Danneels continued to argue for collegiality among the world's bishops and that the election of Bergoglio promised to fulfill the aims pursued at Sankt Gallen.

Danneels' view on homosexuality and same-sex marriage[edit]

Danneels has always objected to discrimination against homosexuals and he has always been in favor of a juridical statute for stable relations between partners of the same sex. He said as much on 11 April 2003 in a private letter to Guy Verhofstadt, whose government had approved this.[49] But he has always been opposed to calling such a statute "marriage". He repeated these views ten years later, in a widely publicized interview with the newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo, in which he said:[50]

[The Church] has never opposed the fact that there should exist a sort of 'marriage' between homosexuals, but one therefore speaks of a 'sort of' marriage. But it is not true marriage, that between a man and a woman, therefore you have to put another word in the dictionary. But that it is lawful, that the law can legitimately provide for it, that's something about which the Church has nothing to say.

Danneels' view on euthanasia[edit]

Long before Belgium liberalized its law on euthanasia,[51] in a press conference on 31 January 1994, Danneels gave voice to the Belgian bishops' opposition to the idea.[52] The issue resurfaced again, with a vengeance, in the spring of 2008, when famous Belgian author Hugo Claus chose euthanasia on 19 March and when three days later Danneels devoted his homily during the Easter Vigil to "the problem of suffering and death", without, however, mentioning Claus by name. Even so, this homily was widely interpreted as criticism of Claus' choice and heavily criticized.[53] But shortly afterwards, on 13 April 2008, Danneels doubled down in "Het Braambos", a broadcast of the "Katholieke Televisie- en Radio-Omroep" (Catholic Television and Radio Broadcasting Organization):

"... [whether or not to liberalize the law on euthanasia] is a choice between two civilizations, a civilization of people who are, or want to be, in complete control of themselves, and a civilization in which there is still room for a God and for what transcends man ... I think it is an excrescence of a typical evolution, I would almost say a cancerous growth of consciousness, which was happy waking up during the Renaissance but which has taken almost cancerous proportions now, which is running amok."

Ecumenical activities[edit]

From the beginning of his archbishopric, Danneels kept cultivating the good contacts between "Mechelen" and Anglicanism that were started by cardinal Mercier in the 1920s.[54]

Likewise from the beginning of his archbishopric, Danneels made almost yearly visits to the Taizé Community. He mediated with the Vatican to make Pope John Paul II's visit to Taizé on 5 October 1986 happen. He regularly met with Brother Roger, on whom the Catholic University bestowed an honorary doctorate in 1990. But after Brother Roger's death, too, he kept fostering relations with Taizé, and from 29 December 2008 through 2 January 200 he hosted the 31st European Taizé meeting in Brussels.[55]

Danneels was a member of the World Council of Religions for Peace, on which he sat until 2004. Starting in the summer of 2002, he was also active in one of its projects, the European Council of Religious Leaders, in which he remained involved through the first decade of the 21st century.[56]

Diplomatic activities[edit]

Danneels was involved in the negotiations about the convent of the Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz after father Werenfried van Straaten had proposed, in 1985, to convert its temporary location in the former theater building into a full-fledged convent. Danneels involvement lasted until 1989, when Rome decided the issue and promised the nuns would move out.[57] (But they remained until 1993, and left behind the Auschwitz cross.)

Between 1990 and 1999, Danneels was the international president of Pax Christi.

Danneels was a consistent and strong supporter of bishop (later cardinal) Monsengwo's attempts to foster democracy in Zaire, mediating between Belgium, Rome and Kinshasa. He was instrumental in Monsengwo's being awarded an honorary doctorate by the Catholic University of Leuven on 2 February 1993 and he gave the Laudatio himself.[58]

Danneels worked long and hard to thaw the relations between China and the Catholic Church. In November 1985 he invited a delegation of official Chinese bishops, who had been invited to Leuven by the Catholic University, to lunch in his residence in Mechelen. A return invitation followed, but problems caused by the coexistence of the official and the underground Catholic Church in China led to Danneels having to postpone his visit. When it finally happened, in March 2005, Danneels had to cut it short, owing to the death of pope John Paul II on 2 April. But on 3 April the Chinese government issued a communiqué lauding Pope John Paul's efforts to recognize the Church's errors. Pope Benedict encouraged Danneels to continue his efforts and in March 2008 Danneels again went to China, where he addressed the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and where he was allowed to encounter a number of rural Catholic communities.[59]

Dealing with child sex abuse in the Belgian Church[edit]

Danneels was first confronted with pedophilia in the Church in the aftermath of the Dutroux affair, when the authorities' call for victims of child abuse to come forward revealed that there had also been cases of child abuse in the Church. (But see also the Vangheluwe affair, below.)

The first to formally organize a contact point for victims of sexual abuse within the Belgian Church was Arthur Luysterman, the bishop of Ghent.[60] That contact point was the model of the "Commission for Complaints about Sexual Abuse in Pastoral Relations", which the conference of the Belgian bishops (chaired by Danneels) organized on 4 November 1999.

Early in 1998 it became known that a pedophile priest of the archbishopric had raped a minor in 1968. Danneels volunteered to testify in court, the first time ever that a cardinal had appeared before a secular court in Belgium. Danneels denied that he had known anything about the abuse. The court held that the Catholic Church in Belgium—not the archbishop himself nor his auxiliary bishop—was guilty of failing to protect the victim, was civilly responsible, and imposed a fine of half a million Belgian francs (now ± 12,500 €). On appeal this verdict was quashed and only the pedophile priest was held guilty.[61]

On 6 December 1999 the authorities began proceedings against Robert Borremans; a priest of the archbishopric, well-known because he had been the choral conductor at the marriage of Philippe and Mathilde (now King and Queen). Danneels relieved him of his pastoral tasks and had him struck from the government's payroll.[62] Though convicted at first, Borremans was cleared in the end, when the allegations against him were found to be false.[63]

The Vangheluwe affair and its aftermath[edit]

From 1973 through 1986 Roger Vangheluwe, a priest since 1963 and the bishop of Bruges since early 1985, sexually abused a nephew of his. Rik Devillé, a priest who had had a couple of conflicts with Danneels,[64] claimed, after the scandal broke on 23 April 2010, that he had warned Danneels about Vangheluwe in the mid-1990s.[65] This may or may not be true—in 2010 Danneels claimed he did not remember this.[66] But Danneels certainly knew about Vangheluwe's crime before the scandal broke, because in the beginning of April 2010 Vangheluwe himself had told Danneels that he had had a relation with a minor.[66] What Danneels did, or did not do, in the few weeks before the scandal broke, earned him a great deal of criticism, both at home and abroad. On 8 April Vangheluwe pressured Danneels to accept a meeting with himself, his victim and the victim's relatives. At that meeting Danneels advised the victim to delay a public statement until Vangheluwe had retired.[67] Speaking through a spokesman, Toon Osaer, Danneels explained that he had been unprepared for this meeting and that his proposal that the victim remain silent was "an improvisation".[68] Danneels did not reveal this conversation to the Belgian bishops. At another meeting Vangheluwe, in Danneels' presence, made a private apology, which the victim rejected. In the night of Monday 19 to Tuesday 20 April all Belgian bishops received an e-mail exposing Vangheluwe. This resulted in Vangheluwe's resignation on 22 April and its immediate acceptance by the Vatican on 23 April, as was revealed on the same date by Danneels' successor as archbishop, André-Mutien Léonard, in a press conference. In a press communiqué, likewise on 23 April, Vangheluwe publicly admitted his guilt and publicly apologized.[69]

In the weeks after Vangheluwe's resignation, the "Commission for Complaints about Sexual Abuse in Pastoral Relations" (now often called the Adriaenssens Commission, after its chairman, child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens) received no fewer than 475 complaints about sexual abuse. On 24 June, in an operation code named Kelk (Chalice) organized at the request of the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the archiepiscopal palace, Danneels' private apartment, the Leuven seat of the Adriaenssens Commission and even St. Rumbold's Cathedral (where the graves of cardinal Mercier and cardinal Suenens were broken into) were simultaneously searched for documents about cases of sexual abuse that could still be prosecuted (unlike that of Vangheluwe, beyond the statute of limitation).[70] On 6 July Danneels was subjected to an all-day interrogation by the Brussels branch of the Judicial Police.[71] Later the search was judged to have been illegal and all documents seized were returned.[72] But the damage to the reputation of Danneels and the Church was great.

Great damage was also caused by the publication in De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad on 28 August 2010 of the transcript of tape recordings, made secretly, of the two meetings Danneels had had with the victim and his family. They revealed that whatever Danneels was trying to do was interpreted by the victim as proof he was not being understood, and that his manner had been inept; in fact, it became the laughing stock of the media.[73]

For Danneels, the final chapter of the affair was his appearance, on 21 December 2010, before a parliamentary committee investigating sexual abuse in hierarchical relations. He emphatically stated that there had never been a policy of covering up or denying, let alone tolerating sexual abuse, that justice had to be done and that the Church must cooperate.[74]

But even if that is accepted, Danneels was widely reproached for inaction in a matter in which the public expected him to be decisive. As an editorial in De Standaard of 1 September 2010 put it: "For days he kept the shock of Vangheluwe's confession to himself. He did not contact the ex-bishop again to convince him of what was inevitable: his immediate resignation. He did not refer the matter to the Adriaenssens Commission. And he did not involve his own successor, archbishop Léonard."

Papal Conclave of 2005[edit]

Upon the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Danneels was listed as a possible successor (or papabile) although with weakened credentials due to the fact that he was an archbishop of a country where abortion, euthanasia and same-sex unions had recently been legalized and where, under his watch, church attendance and pastoral vocations have dropped to historical lows.[75][76][77]

Danneels participated in the 2005 papal conclave. The pre-conclave discussions pointed out the direction which the conclave was to take.[78] It elected Pope Benedict XVI. In a TV interview directly after this election, which he had promised—"foolishly", he said, because keeping this promise prevented him from attending the dinner with the pope and the other cardinals, and because he was tired—his body language indicated he was not enthusiastic, which was widely interpreted as indicating he was an opponent of the new pope. Danneels denies this: "That is not true, but I'll have to bear that charge until I die."[79]

Retirement and succession[edit]

On 4 June 2008, Danneels reached the mandatory age of retirement; his succession took time and did not go smoothly. The three names on the terna (list of three) of possible successors Karl-Josef Rauber, the papal nuncio, sent to Rome, were rejected, and so were the names on a second terna Rauber sent. It was not until 18 January 2010 that Rome imposed its own candidate and replaced Danneels as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels by Léonard, whom Rauber openly said "non era 'del tutto adatto' per Bruxelles" (was totally unsuitable for Brussels).[80]

Papal Conclave of 2013[edit]

Danneels was not considered "papabile" before the 2013 conclave, in which he participated. Naturally he also participated in the cardinals' pre-conclave discussions, which he called "the most interesting discussions in all my life as cardinal", as they were far more open than those preceding the 2005 conclave,[81] and as their main theme was the need for collegiality.[82] According to his own statement, he had been a member of the St Gallen Group of prelates who threw their support behind the election of Pope Francis.

The conclave elected Pope Francis, who invited Danneels to appear with him on the balcony when he first appeared after the Habemus Papam.[83]

At Pope Francis' inauguration, Danneels pronounced the formal prayer for the new pope in the absence of the protopriest, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns,.[84]

On 4 June 2013 Danneels turned 80 and thus lost the right to participate in future conclaves. It was around this time that he described the result of this, his last conclave, as "een persoonlijke verrijzeniservaring" (a personal resurrection experience).[85]


  • Danneels was awarded honorary doctorates by the Catholic University of Tilburg (2 September 2002)[86] and by Georgetown University (3 March 2003).[87]
  • On 20 December 2003 Danneels won the "Castar", an award bestowed by CAnvas, De STAndaard and Radio 1 on "the man or the woman whose cultural, social, political or socio-economic contributions have been positive and remarkable."[88]
  • Danneels was ranked #90 in Les plus grands Belges (2005).
  • To celebrate his 75th birthday, the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Leuven organized a symposium in his honor.[89]
  • On 18 June 2010 he was made an honorary citizen of Mechelen.[90]


  • His mother tongue is Dutch (both Standard Dutch and the Kanegem dialect, barely mutually comprehensible), and he also speaks English, French, German and Italian fluently, as well as Latin[3] (at least during his studies in Rome).
  • In addition to a minor dip toward the end of 1959,[91] Danneels has twice had serious health problems. In the spring of 1971, he suffered a depression, resulting from overworking himself in combination with failing to rest and recuperate from eye surgery. A prolonged period of rest in Kanegem, imposed by his bishop, put him back on his feet.[92] On 4 March 1996, a routine medical check-up revealed life-threatening stenosis of the blood vessels around his heart and he underwent bypass surgery the same day.[93]
  • His Marian devotion is very strong. He even insisted on attending the Marian Hanswijk procession in May 1996, though still recovering from his surgery on 4 March.[94]
  • He is an ardent lover of art, in all its forms, and his taste is eclectic. In music, for example, he appreciates "the three Bs, Bach, Beethoven and the Beatles".[95]


  1. ^ As Danneels himself said in his final homily as archbishop. M&S 502.
  2. ^ B&L 25.
  3. ^ a b B&L 50.
  4. ^ M&S 69, 70, 77.
  5. ^ M&S 47–76.
  6. ^ M&S 70–71.
  7. ^ a b Timothy P. Schilling "A Conversation with Godfried Cardinal Danneels" Image #54; also available here.
  8. ^ M&S, chapter 4.
  9. ^ M&S 136.
  10. ^ Sic, Dutch stokpaardje; M&S 115.
  11. ^ M&S, chapter 5.
  12. ^ M&S, ch. 6.
  13. ^ B&L 142.
  14. ^ M&S 160–161.
  15. ^ M&S 161.
  16. ^ A full list through 2008 on this website of the Vatican; for his notable role in some of them, see further in this article.
  17. ^ See Ivereigh 255–257 and 373, where that author speaks of "the Vatican's steamrolling of CELAM in 1992".
  18. ^ M&S 308–313.
  19. ^ Ivereigh 261–264.
  20. ^ M&S 328.
  21. ^ a b B&L 108.
  22. ^ Witness his touching homily at King Boudewijn's funeral; M&S 371.
  23. ^ The English version of their names and subjects follows the Holy See Press Office's webpage Synod of Bishops and the webpages linked to it.
  24. ^ M&S 165–177.
  25. ^ M&S 178–182; quote p. 178.
  26. ^ B&L 101.
  27. ^ M&S 226–233.
  28. ^ M&S 464.
  29. ^ "The home of mercy" is an English translation of his brief intervention.
  30. ^ Cf. the "Full list of Participants" published by the Vatican Radio.
  31. ^ M&S, ch. 8, especially pp. 194–199.
  32. ^ Wilfried Martens De memoires: Luctor et emergo (Tielt: Lannoo, 2006; ISBN 978-90-209-6520-9; in Dutch), p. 484.
  33. ^ B&L 107.
  34. ^ 25 jaar abortuswet: Boudewijn onder druk, a 6 April 2015 video clip of a VTM newscast.
  35. ^ VTM itself claims this in the text accompanying the clip on its website.
  36. ^ Did Cardinal Daneels Lobby for Abortion?
  37. ^ Cardinal Danneels tried to convince Belgian king to sign bill legalizing abortion: former prime minister
  38. ^ Cardinal Danneels (family "expert" chosen by Francis) tried to convince King Baudouin to Sign Abortion Law – and shocking news of Brussels succession.
  39. ^ The "colloque singulier" is a Belgian tradition "which means that the content of discussions with the King cannot be disclosed, in order to protect his position super partes". Definition from Patricia Popelier & Koen Lemmens The Constitution of Belgium: A Contextual Analysis (Oxford and Portland, Oregon: Hart, 2015; ISBN 978-1-78225-945-9), p. 146.
  40. ^ M&S 297.
  41. ^ A slightly free translation of a Danneels quote in M&S 298.
  42. ^ Quotes translated from M&S 462.
  43. ^ Danneels: "Zat in soort maffiaclub" is a video clip from this broadcast.
  44. ^ Ivereigh 257.
  45. ^ Ivereigh 264.
  46. ^ E.g., Edward Pentin in "Cardinal Danneels Admits to Being Part of 'Mafia' Club Opposed to Benedict XVI". National Catholic Register. or Marco Tosatti in "Francesco: elezione preparata da anni". La Stampa, 24 September 2015.
  47. ^ Ivereigh 285.
  48. ^ M&S 473.
  49. ^ M&S 389.
  50. ^ Translated from the interview in De Tijd, titled "'Ik heb geen zin te bewijzen dat ik een heilig man ben" (I don't feel like proving I am a holy man), 1 June, p. 52; French version in L'Echo "Le cardinal Danneels pas opposé au mariage gay" [Cardinal Danneels does not oppose gay marriage]. L'Echo. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 9 March 2017. (Subscription required (help)).
  51. ^ "Law regarding Euthanasia", dated 28 May 2002, published 22 June 2002.
  52. ^ M&S 384.
  53. ^ M&S 401–404.
  54. ^ M&S 161–164.
  55. ^ M&S 431–434.
  56. ^ M&S 437–446.
  57. ^ M&S, ch. 11.
  58. ^ M&S 372–380.
  59. ^ M&S 447–460.
  60. ^ M&S 409.
  61. ^ M&S 410
  62. ^ M& S 413. Belgian bishops and priests charged with pastoral care are paid by the government, an arrangement that continues the Concordat of 1801.
  63. ^ P. Neirinckx, "Priester Borremans niet schuldig aan verkrachting", Het Belang van Limburg 30 September 2011; also available here.
  64. ^ M&S 315–323, 405–406, 422.
  65. ^ "Belgian Church Leader Urged Victim to Be Silent". The New York Times. 30 August 2010.
  66. ^ a b M&S 484.
  67. ^ "Belgian Cardinal Danneels condoned sex-abuse silence". BBC News.
  68. ^ "Belgium: Cardinal Apologizes for Suggesting Temporary Cover-Up of Bishop's Abuse", by the Associated Press, New York Times, 31 August 2010.
  69. ^ M&S 482.
  70. ^ M&S 487–488.
  71. ^ M&S 488.
  72. ^ M&S 493.
  73. ^ M&S 489.
  74. ^ M&S 491–492.
  75. ^ Daily Mail UK: "Police raid home of Belgian archbishop in sex abuse probe" 25 June 2010
  76. ^ Catholic Culture.org: "Decline of Catholicism in Belgium "troubling," Pope says" 23 November 2003
  77. ^ National Catholic Reporter: "Belgium a 'perfect storm' on sex abuse crisis" 28 June 2010
  78. ^ M&S 472.
  79. ^ B&L 125.
  80. ^ Sandro Magister "'De bello germanico'. Ex nunzio tedesco vuota il sacco contro il papa" in L'Espresso, 2 March 2010, also available here. In Italian.
  81. ^ M&S 497.
  82. ^ Ivereigh 353.
  83. ^ M&S 500.
  84. ^ Inaugural Mass of the Pontificate (Vatican video of Pope Francis' papal inauguration) on YouTube.
  85. ^ M&S 501.
  86. ^ Date announced in De Standaard of 5 February 2002; also available here.
  87. ^ Date in De Standaard of 3 March 2003; also available here.
  88. ^ A somewhat free translation of the very awkward phrasing with which the award was bestowed, quoted in M&S 476. The word kastaar (pronounced like Castar), substandard Dutch but common in Flanders, denotes an energetic, larger-than-life person.
  89. ^ M&S 475.
  90. ^ M&S 478.
  91. ^ M&S 62.
  92. ^ M&S 108.
  93. ^ B&L 115–117.
  94. ^ M&S 153–154.
  95. ^ B&L 85.

Jan Becaus & Christian Laporte In gesprek met kardinaal Danneels (Antwerpen: Halewijn, 2009) (in Dutch; ISBN 978-90-8528-123-8); Christian Laporte & Jan Becaus Confidences d'un cardinal (Namur: Fidélité & Bruxelles: Racine, 2009) (in French; ISBN 2873866322 or ISBN 9782873564452). References (in the notes: B&L) are to the Dutch version.

Austen Ivereigh The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (With an updated and expanded epilogue) (New York: Picador, 2015) ISBN 978-1-250-07499-7. In the notes: Ivereigh.

Jürgen Mettepenningen & Karim Schelkens Godfried Danneels: Biografie (in Dutch; ISBN 978 94 6310 022 9); Karim Schelkens & Jürgen Mettepenningen Godfried Danneels: Biographie (in French; ISBN 978 94 6310 023 6) (Antwerpen: Uitgeverij Polis, 2015.) References (in the notes: M&S) are to the Dutch version.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
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Jules Victor Daem
2nd Bishop of Antwerp
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Paul Van den Berghe
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Leo Jozef Suenens
2nd Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
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André-Mutien Léonard
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Leo Jozef Suenens
Primate of Belgium
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André-Mutien Léonard
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Leo Jozef Suenens
Bishop of military ordinariate of Belgium
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André-Joseph Léonard
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James Francis McIntyre
Cardinal-Priest of Santa Anastasia
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Franz König
International President of Pax Christi
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Michael Sabbah