Dutch priests abused 'up to 20,000 children'

 

THE NETHERLANDS was in shock last night after a long-awaited 1,100-page report confirmed that more than 800 Catholic priests and monks abused as many as 20,000 children in their care between 1945 and 1985.

The report of the Deetman Commission, chaired by former education minister Wim Deetman, also concluded that knowledge of the abuse was widespread, and it accused religious orders, dioceses and even congregations of failing to help the victims or take action against the abusers.

It said the abuse, which included sexual abuse, took place in boarding schools, children’s homes and orphanages across the country, but was never openly acknowledged by church authorities because of their “culture of silence” and determination “not to hang out their dirty washing”.

Mr Deetman, a former chairman of the Christian Democratic Party who began his investigation in March 2010 when the allegations surfaced, said the commission estimated the number of children abused at between 10,000 and 20,000.

More than 800 of the abusers have been named. Of those, 105 are still alive – though Mr Deetman could not say how many still worked for the church.

He said that some 2,000 victims had so far come forward to make official complaints – and of that number, 1,800 of the cases had involved sexual abuse that in many cases could be characterized as “very serious”.

“To prevent a scandal, nothing was done,” said Mr Deetman. “The abuse was not acknowledged, and there was no help, compensation or aftercare for the victims. The claim by church officials that they did not know what was going on simply does not hold water.”

On the controversial issue of celibacy, the report said that while this was not a critical element in the abuse, it was an additional risk factor that made priests “more vulnerable to transgressive behaviour”. Mr Deetman told a news conference in The Hague: “We do not consider it impossible that a number of these cases might not have happened if celibacy had been voluntary.”

In a brief statement last night, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Netherlands said the church had been “shocked and shamed” by the report.

It also reiterated an offer, first made by the Dutch church last month, to pay compensation totalling about €5 million to victims. This would range from about €5,000 for inappropriate remarks or behaviour, up to €100,000 for the most serious cases of sexual abuse.

However, that compensation offer was described at the time as inadequate by groups representing victims – and they accused the church of a cynical attempt to pre-empt yesterday’s report.

Last night the victims’ organisation Klokk said the findings had been even more shocking than they had expected.

The organisation criticised, in particular, “the passive attitude” of the Catholic Church in its response both to the original allegations and to the subsequent findings – and said that attitude gave grounds for little hope that anything in the church would change. A separate commission, led by a senior department of justice official, Rieke Samson-Geerlings, is investigating the role of the Dutch social services in placing children in institutions – and in some cases in foster homes – where they were open to abuse.