A possible cover-up by the Belgian Catholic hierarchy of a vast scandal of sex abuse of minors by priests and bishops is likely to be less shocking to a group of parents who spent years trying, with no success, to have a graphically sexually explicit “catechism” textbook withdrawn from Catholic schools.
On June 24, the very day police were raiding the offices of the Archdiocese of Brussels and the home of Cardinal Godfreed Danneels, an article appeared in the Brussels Journal detailing the cardinal’s opposition to efforts to stop the catechism that had been written and approved by Belgian Catholic authorities.
Alexandra Colen, a Catholic member of the Belgian parliament, wrote that because of this “perverted little catechism,” “Hundreds of children who were not raped physically were molested spiritually during the catechism lessons.”
Intended to be used for religious education classes in Catholic schools, the text, a portion of which has been obtained by LifeSiteNews.com (LSN), includes a drawing of a naked infant girl, captioned to show her saying she welcomed stroking of her genitals and “I like to take my knickers off with friends,” and “I want to be in the room when mum and dad have sex.” The illustration also shows a naked little boy and girl “playing doctor.” The little boy says, “Look, my willy is big.”
Colen told LifeSiteNews.com in an interview that apart from the section with the drawing, “A lot of the text itself was either ambiguous or subversive” on Catholic teaching. The text, she said, discusses the Ten Commandments, and uses them as a starting point to discuss masturbation and tell the children they “shouldn’t feel guilty.”
“It talks about oral sex, terms we never used with the children at home.” The worst of it is, she said, is that the text “pretends to be Catholic teaching.”
“The lessons themselves are perverted. [The students] weren’t learning anything about the Catholic religion.”
In 1997, when Colen discovered the text among her 13-year-old daughter’s school books, she launched a campaign to have it removed from Catholic schools. She sent a letter to Cardinal Danneels insisting that the text be withdrawn, saying it “breeds pedophiles.”
“When I see this drawing and its message, I get the distinct impression that this catechism textbook is designed intentionally to make 13 and 14 year olds believe that toddlers enjoy genital stimulation,” she wrote.
After ignoring numerous letters and requests for meetings, Danneels refused to receive a delegation of parents who had resorted to demonstrating outside his residence, later telling press, “I shall not be pressured.” But the media coverage resulted in a flood of interest from concerned parents who had similar stories to tell of their children’s Catholic schools. Those parents told Colen that, “There were schools where children were taught to put condoms over artificial penises and where they had to watch videos showing techniques of masturbation and copulation,” she wrote in the Journal.
Colen said that it only then became clear to her and the other parents that the same corruption was to be found throughout the Belgian Catholic school system.
The group’s efforts to bring the catechism to the attention of other members of the Belgian hierarchy went nowhere. The Bishop of Antwerp, Paul Van den Berghe, the Episcopal supervisor for education, at first told a delegation that he would investigate, but five days later publicly retracted that promise. Efforts to reach the Papal Nuncio, the ambassador of the Vatican and a close friend of Danneels, were also rebuffed.
“When I had exhausted all possibilities and it was clear that the Belgian church did not want to hear the parents, I decided to sever all ties with the Catholic education system,” Colen wrote. She and other parents began homeschooling their children, and Colen sent letters detailing her experiences to cardinals around the world and at the Vatican.
The letters, which have been obtained by LSN, received much more favorable responses. Mgr. Clemens, Cardinal Ratzinger’s personal secretary at the Congregation of the Faith in Rome wrote, “Please be assured that this Dicastery will give your report all due consideration.” The Canadian Cardinal Gagnon said he appreciated “the just battle which you are conducting.” “The matter which you raised is very important,” wrote Cardinal Arinze from Rome.
Colen also received favorable responses from Cardinals Meisner of Cologne, Wamala of Uganda, Vidal of the Philippines, Williams of New Zealand, Lopez Rodriguez of Santo Domingo, O’Connor of New York and Pio Laghi, Prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Education. Many of these promised to write to Danneels or help in other ways.
Colen also points out that the disgraced Bishop Roger Vangheluwe was responsible for the Catholic University of Leuven and the Seminary of Bruges, where the catechism’s editors were professors. In April, Vangheluwe resigned as bishop of Bruges after admitting to having sexually abused his own nephew throughout his clerical career.
“Today,” Colen wrote, in light of the news of state-sponsored investigation into episcopal cover-ups of child abuse “this case, that dates from 12 years ago, assumes a new and ominous significance.”
She told LSN, “At the time, we said, how is it possible that the bishops allow this. But then we heard about Msgr. Vangheluwe and we realised they weren’t just ‘allowing’. It is from the top down.”
Colen told LSN that although Belgium has both state-sponsored public and Catholic schools, about 80 percent of children attend the Church schools. The damage done to Belgium’s children and to society by such material in schools, she said, is “therefore enormous.”