Cardinal Godfried Danneels, for years one of the dominant figures in European Catholicism, has died aged 85 in his hometown of Mechelen, Belgium.
A champion of liberal Catholicism, Danneels was a prominent member of the “St Gallen Group” of churchmen.
His later years were marked by the abuse crisis. He was secretly recorded telling a man who had been abused by his uncle, a bishop, that it would be better to remain silent until the bishop had retired.
What churchmen said
Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, chairman of the Belgian bishops’ conference, said the Belgian Church was “very grateful” for Cardinal Danneels’s service.
Pope Francis expressed his “deepest condolences”, describing Danneels as a “zealous pastor” who “served the Church with dedication”. He noted: “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.” This was at the Pope’s invitation.
The cardinal had a good relationship with Pope Francis: after his election in 2013, Cardinal Danneels appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica at Francis’s first appearance. The cardinal called the election of Francis “a personal resurrection experience”.
What the media said
In the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin said the cardinal had taken “a number of positions that placed him at odds with definitive Church teaching”. Danneels “once said same-sex ‘marriage’ was a ‘positive development’,” although he sought to distinguish such a union from the Church’s understanding of marriage. He also advocated for condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.’”
Crux’s John Allen said that he “always found Danneels to be smart, well-informed, charming and endlessly curious.” The self-deprecating cardinal would insist that journalists “knew more about the place’s inner workings than he did – a claim that subsequent conversation, by the way, would almost always debunk”.
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