‘The Church knew about abuse, its policy failed.’ It is one of the conclusions in a detailed and well-researched report of the Deetman Commission about sexual abuse of minors in the Dutch Roman Catholic Church from 1945 to 2010. On Friday 16 December 2011 the independent commission of inquiry presented its findings.(1) Since WW II about 10 to 20 thousand minors fell victim to various degrees of sexual abuse by some 800 members of the clergy, members of orders and congregations, or lay workers. The commission started its work in 2010 with the former Minister of Education Wim Deetman as its president. Researchers had unlimited access to church archives.(2)
Some startling details were exposed. While counter-measures had been developed since the 1930s and sexual abuse was on the agenda of orders, congregations and episcopate until the mid-1950s, pressure from Rome allegedly put an end to all that. It was only in the 1980s that the issue was on the agenda again, but substantial discussion within the Dutch bishops conference was deferred time and again. Perpatrators were treated with leniency, while the victims’ complaints fell on deaf ears.(3)
Meanwhile, the impression that sexual abuse occurred mostly in the Roman Catholic Church does not hold. It was a widespread phenomenon in Dutch society. Moreover, abuse was not limited to educational institutions.(4) The Deetman Commission did not single out celibacy or homosexuality as the root causes of sexual abuse, but clearly stated that both must have added to the risk already existent. Furthermore, in its conclusions the commission doubts, whether issues surrounding celibacy can be solved by stricter admission criteria and spiritual supervision alone. After all, it might well be that the taboo on sexuality in general and on deviant sexual behaviour in particular is not likely to create an open atmosphere.
An English language summary and press releases are available at the website of the Deetman Commission. See also the BBC website. (FH)
(1) Seksueel misbruik van minderjarigen in de Rooms-Katholieke Kerk. Rapport van de commissie van onderzoek, W. Deetman, P. Kalbfleisch, N. Draijer, H. Merckelbach e.a. (eds.), Utrecht (Balans) 2011, 500 p.
(2) Interestingly, researchers found that the entire archive of the diocese of Roermond between 1972 and 1993 had been “shredded”. During this period J. Gijssen was bishop of Roermond.
(3) Quoting pope Benedict XVI, Giacomo Galeazzi (The Dutch Drift, from Model Church to Pedophile Scandal, 17 December 2011) proposed a more convenient explanation: progressive Catholicism is to blame, e.g. secularisation, the modern world. Is this explanation superficial? The accompanying picture certainly is. It seemingly shows one of those out-of-control progressive priests, while in fact it is a traditional (conservative) priest, who used unconventional methods (and was admonished for this).
(4) It is often ignored, but statistically the family is the place where a child is most at risk of psychological, physical and sexual abuse.