The funeral took place in Mechelen on Friday of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who died last week at the age of 85. The ceremony in the Sint-Rombouts cathedral was attended by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, as well as a number of leading politicians and 175 members of the clergy. The funeral was conducted by Cardinal Jozef De Keser, the current head of the church in Belgium.
Cardinal Danneels was “a good shepherd for many years,” who had guided the church through “a turning point for the church and for society,” Cardinal De Keser said in his homily.
“It was not easy to be guide and shepherd at the same time, but he managed it with courage and authority,” he said.
A letter was read out at the service from Pope Francis, who had been elected by a conclave attended by Danneels.
The end of Danneels’ career as head of the church was marked by the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy, which by then had reached as high as the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe. His successor as bishop is now Danneels’ successor as primate – Cardinal De Keser. And he took the opportunity of the service to bring up the subject of the scandal.
“When his biography was presented several years ago, he spoke in public for the last time,” De Kesel said. “At that point the church was sorely confronted by sin and weakness within its own ranks. And he said, ‘Where I fell short, I rely on God’s forgiveness’. That is the prayer today of all of us.”
Members of the public had begun lining up outside the cathedral from early morning to say their farewells. Cardinal Danneels had been lying in state since his death last Friday. Places in the church were taken not only by the massed clergy, but also Princess Astrid and her brother Prince Laurent, Christian Democrat ministers Kris Peeters, Pieter De Crem and Koen Geens, as well as CD&V president Wouter Beke, former Leuven university rector Rik Torfs, the governor of Antwerp province Cathy Berx, the speakers of the federal and Flemish parliaments and of the Senate, mayor Bart Somers of Mechelen and councillors, an envoy from the Vatican and representatives of other religious denominations.
At the end of the ceremony, the largest clock in the tower of the cathedral tolled 85 times.