MECHELEN, Belgium (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 85, former head of the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese in Belgium, has died.
The 85-year-old retired cardinal died Thursday morning. The current archbishop of Mechelen and Brussels, Cdl. Jozef De Kesel, announced Cdl. Danneels' passing, saying, "We continue to thank him gratefully. May he rest in God's peace."
Danneels was part of a coalition of left-leaning Church leaders known as the St. Gallen Mafia — so named after their meeting place in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Although the cardinal's exact cause of death is unknown to the public, a statement from the Belgian bishops mentions, "His physical health gradually deteriorated."
Pope Francis expressed his condolences, saying in a message to Cdl. De Kesel on Thursday, "I send my deepest condolences to you and to his family, the bishops of Belgium, the clergy, the consecrated persons and all the faithful affected by this mourning.
"This zealous pastor served the Church with dedication," the Pope added.
Known as a liberal in the Church, Cdl. Danneels spoke favorably in 2013 of the legalization of gay marriage in Belgium, telling a Dutch newspaper, "I think it's a positive development that states are free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want."
Another member of the St. Gallen Mafia, German Cdl. Karl Lehmann, died in March of last year at the age of 81.
The St. Gallen Mafia was instrumental in getting Pope Francis elected in 2013. The semi-secretive group conspired for years to get a progressive-minded prelate elected to the papacy. Although the group disbanded in 2005 when it then failed to elect Argentina's Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio to the papal see, it was resurrected in 2013 after the sudden abdication of Pope Benedict.
In August 2015, papal advisor Austen Ivereigh mentioned the St. Gallen Mafia in his biography The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. Ivereigh claimed the St. Gallen Mafia was instrumental in Pope Francis' election to the papacy by the College of Cardinals during the 2013 conclave.
Along with Cdl. Danneels and Cdl. Lehmann, members of the St. Gallen Mafia include Dutch Bp. Adriaan van Luyn, Cdl. Walter Kasper from Germany, Cdl. Achille Silvestrini of Italy and now-deceased British Cdl. Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
In September 2015, now-deceased Cdl. Danneels confirmed the existence of the cabal. He said in an interview on video, "'The Saint Gallen Group' is a sort of posh name. But in reality we said of ourselves, and of that group, 'The Mafia.'"
It appears the St. Gallen Group formed in the late 1990s to counter Pope St. John Paul II and then-Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger. At the time, Cdl. Ratzinger was known as one of the closest aides to the Holy Father. The St. Gallen Mafia was an informal group for high-ranking Catholic clergy with radical views who were afraid that then-Cdl. Ratzinger would become the next pope.
The secretive coalition supposedly threw its weight behind then-Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio in the 2005 conclave. They unsuccessfully opposed the election of Cdl. Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. The St. Gallen Mafia backed Cdl. Bergoglio again at the 2013 conclave after Pope Benedict XVI resigned. Their 2013 campaign was successful, and then-Cdl. Bergoglio became Pope Francis.
This type of organized campaigning for papal election during a conclave is technically forbidden. In chapter six of the 1996 apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, Pope St. John Paul II issued a series of condemnations against various forms of politicking among the cardinal-electors at conclaves.
The Supreme Pontiff warned, "The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons."
Such behavior, according to the document, merits a latae sententiae excommunication.