Victims of abuse by Dutch clergy seek trials

 

THE POSSIBILITY of changing the law to allow prosecutions against Catholic clergy believed to have been involved in child abuse is being examined by the Dutch cabinet. This is despite the fact that the statute of limitations on their alleged crimes has run out, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said last night.

The 1,100-page report of the Deetman Commission revealed last Friday that more than 800 Catholic priests and monks – 105 of whom are still alive – had systematically abused as many as 20,000 children, many of them sexually, in church-run institutions, between 1945 and 1985.

Mr Rutte was commenting after it emerged that a formal complaint had already been lodged with the public prosecutor’s office against the Catholic diocese of Rotterdam and its former bishop, Philippe Bär, claiming they had provided “a platform for criminals involved in the abuse of minors”.

The Deetman Commission – chaired by former education minister Wim Deetman – focused in detail on Rotterdam diocese, collating evidence of a substantial number of sexual abuse cases there during the 1980s.

Fr Bär, a Benedictine monk, was Bishop of Rotterdam from 1983 to 1993, when he retired unexpectedly and without explanation to a Benedictine monastery in Chevetogne, Belgium.

The lawyer representing the Rotterdam victims, Jan Boone, confirmed that he had asked the public prosecutor to press charges against Fr Bär and a number of other senior church figures – maintaining that the Deetman report provided enough groundwork to initiate criminal proceedings.

Mr Boone argued that a criminal prosecution would be more appropriate than a civil action because the victims of the alleged abuse would be seen more clearly as the injured parties.

“There is also the fact that, in a criminal case, victims have the right to speak publicly in court about their ordeal – and that is an experience that, to some extent, can have a healing effect.”

In another development yesterday, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond, in the south-east of the Netherlands, said his predecessor, Bishop Jo Gijsen – who had strong views on homosexuality and women’s rights – had ordered the destruction of the diocese’s episcopal archive for the period of his tenure from 1972 to 1993.

Bishop Wiertz said the archive went back 450 years and was intact on both sides of the missing period – though he could not say whether the missing documents had hindered the work of the Deetman investigators.

A letter of apology from the Dutch bishops was read by priests at Masses throughout the country on Sunday, after a scathing attack on the Catholic Church by the deputy Prime Minister, Maxime Verhagen, a practising Catholic.