Godfried Danneels

His Eminence
Godfried Danneels
Cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels
Archdiocese Mechelen-Brussels
Province Mechelen-Brussels
Appointed 19 December 1979
Term ended 18 January 2010
Predecessor Leo Jozef 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
Kanegem, Tielt
Nationality Belgian
Denomination Roman Catholic
Occupation Theologian
Previous post
Alma mater Catholic University of Leuven
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Cardinal Danneels in full choir dress (left)
Styles of
Godfried Danneels
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Mechelen-Brussels

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 ordination

Born in Kanegem, Tielt, West Flanders, he was the eldest of six siblings. Danneels entered the Grand Seminary of Bruges to become a priest. He was ordained on 17 August 1957 by Emiel-Jozef De Smedt, Bishop of Brugge.[1]

Professor and pastor

He studied Thomistic philosophy at the Higher Institute of Philosophy in Leuven and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. After obtaining his doctorate in theology, he taught at the Bruges seminary and at the Catholic University of Leuven.

As a scholar, he carried out a study of the liturgy, and wrote articles for the Dictionary of the Liturgy. Danneels was actively involved in writing Sacrosanctum Concilium, a document which initiated the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council.


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. Danneels was promoted to the Archbishopric of Mechelen-Brussel on 19 December 1979 and thus the Primate of Belgium and the Bishop of the nation's Catholic military ordinariate.


Daneels was created a Cardinal-Priest of Santa Anastasia by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of 2 February 1983.

Since 2001, Danneels has been a part of the permanent secretariat of the episcopal synod. He is also a member of the Curial Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Congregation for the Clergy. Between 1990 and 1999, he was the international president of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization. Danneels was awarded honorary doctorates by Georgetown University and the Catholic University of Tilburg. In 1996, he underwent a major heart operation.

In 2003, Danneels was voted the "most remarkable personality of the year" by Flemish television viewers. His mother tongue is Dutch, and he also speaks English, French, German and Italian fluently. In 2005 he also led the funeral service of Grand Duchess Josephine Charlotte of Luxembourg.

Regarding euthanasia, Danneels said on 13 April 2008:

"... it is a choice between two civilizations, a civilization of people who want to take control of themselves and a civilization with a god and place for superhuman elements ... it is an excrescence of a typical evolution, of a cancerous growth of consciousness that luckily woke up during Renaissance but that has taken cancerous proportions now, that broke away."

Daneels and the court

The cardinal is very close to the royal court of Belgium and officiates at almost every great ceremony at court.

Royal baptisms

Royal funerals

Royal marriages

Concealment of child sex abuse

In 1998 a court found that the Belgian Catholic Church had failed to protect the victims of a paedophile priest. Danneels voluntarily testified in court, but denied that he had known anything about the abuse. It was the first time ever that a cardinal had appeared before a secular court in Belgium.

On 8 April 2010, Danneels, already retired, recommended temporary silence about a sex abuse case that had involved Bishop Roger Vangheluwe in the late 1970s to 1980s. The abuse began when Vangheluwe was a priest and continued after he was made a bishop. Daneels advised the victim, a nephew of Vangheluwe, to delay a public statement until Vangheluwe had retired.[2] At another meeting Vangheluwe, in Danneels' presence, made a private apology, which the victim rejected and went public with his charges. On 23 April 2010, Bishop Vangheluwe resigned, admitting his guilt publicly. Four months later, Vangheluwe's nephew supplied tape recordings of the two meetings to two Belgian newspapers, which published them on 28 August 2010.[3] One of the two newspapers, De Standaard, described Danneels' action as "containment, nothing more", saying that Danneels' "only aim is to avoid having the case made public so many years after the facts".[3] The Belgian police then questioned Danneels with regard to the case, concerning which a priest had tried to alert him in about 1996 but had not been heeded.[3]

Speaking through a spokesman, Toon Osaer, Danneels explained that he had been unprepared for the meeting and that his proposal that the victim remain silent was "an improvisation".[4]

Papal conclave of 2005

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.[5][6][7]

Danneels participated in the 2005 papal conclave, which elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Retirement and succession

In 2008, Danneels reached the mandatory age of retirement and, on 18 January 2010, he was replaced as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels by André-Mutien Léonard, "known as one of the most 'conservative' of the prelates of the Belgian Catholic Church".[8]

Danneels participated as a cardinal-elector in the conclave of 2013 which elected Pope Francis.[9][10] At the 2013 conclave, Danneels was the most-senior cardinal priest to participate outranked only by the cardinal-bishops.[10][lower-alpha 1] At the papal inauguration of Pope Francis, Danneels pronounced the formal prayer for the new pope in the absence of the protopriest, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns.[11][12][13]

On 4 June 2013 he turned 80 and lost the right to participate in future conclaves.[14]

In June 2013 Danneels indicated his support for providing legal recognition for same-sex couples. He said:[15][16]

[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, not of true marriage between a man and a woman, therefore another word must be found for the dictionary. About the fact that this should be legal, that it should be made legitimate through a law, about this the Church has nothing to say.


Danneels has admitted to belonging to a "mafia" club dedicated to opposing the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI and electing Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the next Pope.[17] Allegedly, the group bore the name of Saint Gallen.[18]


  1. The protopriest Paulo Evaristo Arns was ineligible to participate in the conclave due to being over 80


  1. Holy See Press Office. "Danneels Card. Godfried". College of Cardinals – Biographical notes. Holy See. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  2. "Belgian Cardinal Danneels condoned sex-abuse silence". BBC News.
  3. 1 2 3 "Belgian Church Leader Urged Victim to Be Silent". The New York Times. 30 August 2010.
  4. "Belgium: Cardinal Apologizes for Sugguesting Temporary Cover-Up of Bishop's Abuse", by the Associated Press, New York Times, 31 August 2010.
  5. Daily Mail UK: "Police raid home of Belgian archbishop in sex abuse probe" 25 June 2010
  6. Catholic Culture.org: "Decline of Catholicism in Belgium "troubling," Pope says" 23 November 2003
  7. National Castholic Reporter: "Belgium a 'perfect storm' on sex abuse crisis" 28 June 2010
  8. Piccirilli Dorsey, Inc. "News - LifeSite". LifeSiteNews.
  9. "Cardinal electors – Conclave of March 2013 – Arranged in alphabetical order". Salvador Miranda. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
  10. 1 2 "Conclave of March 2013". Salvador Miranda. Retrieved 1 November 2013.
  11. Inaugural Mass of the Pontificate (Vatican video of Pope Francis' papal inauguration) on YouTube
  12. "Omelia di papa Francesco - Famiglia Cristiana". Famiglia Cristiana.
  13. "askanews".
  14. "DANNEELS, Godfried". Salvador Miranda. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  15. Tosatti, Marco (7 June 2013). "Belgium's Cardinal Danneels okays same-sex unions". Vatican Insider. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  16. "Le cardinal Danneels pas opposé au mariage gay" [Cardinal Danneels does not oppose gay marriage]. L'Echo (in French). 31 May 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2014. (subscription required (help)).
  17. "Cardinal Danneels Admits to Being Part of 'Mafia' Club Opposed to Benedict XVI". National Catholic Register.
  18. "Danneels: "Zat in soort maffiaclub"". VTM NIEUWS.
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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Jules Victor Daem
Bishop of Antwerp
Succeeded by
Paul Van den Berghe
Preceded by
Leo Jozef Suenens
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
Succeeded by
André-Mutien Léonard
Preceded by
Leo Jozef Suenens
Primate of Belgium
Succeeded by
André-Mutien Léonard
Preceded by
Leo Jozef Suenens
Bishop of military ordinariate of Belgium
Succeeded by
André-Joseph Léonard
Preceded by
James Francis McIntyre
Cardinal-Priest of Santa Anastasia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Franz König
International President of Pax Christi
Succeeded by
Michael Sabbah
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