Suffice to say that what happened in Belgium yesterday when they raided the residence of Cardinal Godfried Danneels and that of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Andre-Joseph Leonard was unprecedented in modern times.
Today we are finding out that they seized Cardinal Danneels’ computer and drilled into the tombs of two former cardinals to determine if documents had been recently secreted within these tombs! This is pretty heady stuff. Seems far fetched even for the Catholic Church. Yes, hiding ‘stuff’ within the tomb of a cardinal may have been ‘state-of-the-art’ in the fourteenth century … but this is now?
That the Vatican is outraged was to be expected.
That those that have been agitating for more action against the clergy that supposedly abused children were overjoyed and warmly applauded the actions of the Belgian authorities was also to be expected.
My current feeling, and as ever, I could be wrong, is that the Belgians overreached slightly and are now going to over-compensate by sweeping everything under the proverbial carpet! In a way that is a shame.
Given my background in computers, what fascinated me most was the confiscation of Cardinal Deanneels’ computer. This could literally have been Pandora’s Box.
WAS IT A BREACH OF PROTOCOL?
As I point out on page 81 of my ‘The Next Pope‘ book, secular powers are supposed to treat cardinals as the equivalent of royal princes.
Belgium, like Britain, has a constitutional monarchy. There is a King and a bunch of princes. So, Belgium is a country that fully understands and appreciates the notion of royal princes.
Though it is now mainly a secular country, about 47% of the population is still, at least nominally, Catholic. Thus, one has to assume, that Cardinal Danneels was considered to be a part of the Royal Court — given the existence of a Court and the Catholic bias of the population.
This is what puzzles me. I am not sure whether the British authorities would ever confiscate the computer of a British prince — whatever the supposed crime. I could be wrong.
Cardinal Danneels is Belgian. That can’t be refuted. So he is subject to the Belgium laws. I don’t think the pope or the Vatican could claim otherwise. Of late, the Vatican has gone to great lengths to claim that Bishops do not report directly to the pope. [This being to distance the pope from bishops facing civil investigations in places like the States.] The same argument would apply to a Cardinal — especially one who was an Archbishop. Thus, I am not sure that Cardinal Danneels can claim any sort of diplomatic immunity citing that he actually is a ‘citizen’ of the Vatican City State. That works for the pope. But, I am sure it won’t cut any mustard in the case of Cardinal Danneels. So diplomatic, as opposed to royal, immunity would be out of the question.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAYBE ON THE COMPUTER?
There is one thing I am fairly sure about. That is that the Vatican probably never thought that the computer of one of its cardinals would get confiscated. It is likely that sensitive information is stored, encrypted. And I doubt whether Cardinal Danneels will surrender the code to unencrypt the data. Yes, the Belgian authorities, but, if not, the FBI for sure, could crack the code IF they wanted to — all it needs is oodles of processing power.
But there could be emails. My gut feel, and I could be wrong, is that there will be some amount of ’embarrassing,’ if not incriminating, data on that computer. It may not be explicitly to do with what took place in Belgium. But, there could be documents that talked about the Vatican’s general policy re. the clergy abuse scandal.
If so, could the Vatican agitate that the information is protected. Of course, if can — whether it has a legal basis or not. But, here is where gumption comes in.
I think the Belgian authorities are ALREADY feeling the heat. Maybe they went too far. Maybe all they should have done was nab a few computers. Drilling holes in tombs is always provocative.
So my druthers is that this matter is already at an end!
Nothing will be found. The Belgian authorities will start back pedaling. Claim nothing of importance was found.
But, as ever, I could be wrong.