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A report published today presents the numbers related to the sexual abuse crisis in Belgium in 2012. Last year, 307 reports of abuse “in a pastoral relationship” were received, of which 75% (230 cases) have been resolved, the vast majority through financial compensations. In about half of the cases, this compensation was between 2,500 and 5,000 euros.
80% of the reports are about abuse which took place 30 or more years ago. That is some 245 cases.
In January fo 2012, the Belgian bishops presented the 6 guidelines they will use in handling the abuse crisis:
Standing with the victim.
- Breaking the silence.
- Recognition and restoration of the damage done.
- The victims dictates the form of compensation.
- Perpetrators are dealt with justly’.
- Prevention is a must.
Each diocese, as well as the religious congregations in the Dutch- and French-speaking parts of Belgium, operates a contact point which is open to anyone – victim, witness, perpetrator or suspect – confronted with sexual abuse in the Church. Bishops Johan Bonny of Antwerp and Guy Harpigny of Tournai are specifically delegated to represent the Church in these matters. They are pictured above during today’s press conference, together with Ms. Tine Van Belle and Professor Manu Keirse, respectively the coordinator of the contact point in the Diocese of Bruges, and chairman of the Interdiocesan Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Youths in Pastoral Relations.
Reports like the one presented today will be released every year to make public the reports received and the way these have been dealt with in and outside the Church.
Although his resignation was generally expected to take place some time in the coming months, it was still a surprise that the Holy See today accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. It did so in accordance with canon 401 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law, which covers the obligation of a diocesan bishop to offer his resignation as he reaches the age of 75. Cardinal O’Brien will reach that age next month and, according to his official statement, his resignation had been accepted ”nunc pro tunc” back in November.
But is that the whole story? Of course, we must treat carefully here, because it is all speculation, but that speculation arises from some recent developments surrounding Cardinal O’Brien. He has recently been accused of sexual misconduct by three priests and one former priest from his diocese, stretching back over the past 30 years. Cardinal O’Brien strongly denies these accusations, but they unavoidable raised questions about what, if anything, really happened. And today, his unexpected resignation as well as his decision not to attend the conclave, has raised even more questions. But any answers will most likely depend on ecclesiastic and secular legal actions, if and when they take place. For now, we have the cardinal’s word and explanation to go on.
Cardinal O’Brien has stated that he will not travel to Rome next month, although his resignation does not prevent him from attending, because “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his Successor.” That means that 115 electors will participate in the conclave. As reported earlier, Ukrainian Cardinal Husar will reach the age of 80 tomorrow, before the sede vacante begins, and Indonesian Cardinal Darmaatmadja will stay at home because of health reasons. Great Britain will have no elector at the conclave, although the United Kingdom will, since the Irish primate, Cardinal Brady, resides within Northern Ireland.
Cardinal O’Brien has been archbishop of Scotland’s primatial see since 1985, and he was created a cardinal in 2003 with the title church of Santi Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano.
Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Although the full text of the court’s decision has not been published yet, it is clear that Cardinal Adrianus Simonis will not be prosecuted for perjury in the case of the Salesian priest Jan N., who committed sexual abuse under the cardinal’s watch, when the latter was archbishop of Utrecht. During a witness hearing Cardinal Simonis had stated that he was not aware of any sexual abuse committed by clergy. A man who was abused by the priest in question subsequently lodged a formal complaint against this statement with the public prosecutor.
The prosecutor has now stated that their is no evidence that Cardinal Simonis intentionally lied and has declared the complaint unfounded. The cardinal himself was not questioned about the complaint.
As today is a day of giving in the Netherlands, it is perhaps fitting to note that over the past months the Church has paid €2.6 million (3.4 million USD) to 91 victims of sexual abuse or their descendants or representatives. On average, victims received €32,000 in compensation, although the amount varied according to the nature of the abuse suffered.
At the same time, insurance company Aegon paid out €1 million to the Church as part of a liability insurance agreed upon between Aegon and the Diocese of Rotterdam in 2006. The money can be used for further payments to victims. There are a 110 complaints and claims that still need resolving.
And so the liturgical year draws to a close as we mark the start of the new one tomorrow, and this blog happily marked the 200,000th visitor some weeks ago. 200,000 visits since I began almost three years ago? For some blogs that is next to nothing, but for me it is a reason to be grateful. Thank you.
Onward to the top 10 of last month, when we saw 6,262 visits.
1: Intolerable tolerance 103
2: “On the edge, but not marginal” – Fr. Radcliffe on the “official Church” 90
3: Maranatha – a Catholic future for Tilburg’s students 68
4: Papal attack on the Nativity ox and ass 64
5: A second Red Dawn risies 56
6:In gratitude – Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows 46
7: Het probleem Medjugorje 45
8: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 39
9: Hope at the Catholic Youth Day – the Catholic voice stirring? 38
10: Criminal or careless? Bishop Gijsen accused in Iceland 37
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In a letter to the Committee for Safety and Justice, the Dutch bishops have responded to the points of critique that the Deetman Comittee identified in their report of last September. Apart from emphasising their involvement in the various ways that abuse claims are being processed, they also say that they want clarity about the possibility that the majority of these cases will receive a verdict in the coming year. The bishops also state their intention that they will now be actively involved in the institution which actually deals with the claims. Another important point they and the Conference of Dutch Religious recognise and want to fulfill is the implementation of the human tone in the meetings with victims and the processing of their claims. That is something that victims, but others as well, have long desired. It is not enough to strictly focus on the procedures and the rules, but compassion and regret also have a real and functional role in this entire process of dealing with a very black past.
In recent months, there have been complaints that the process is slow and sometimes even stalls completely. Superiors of religious orders and functionaries of the Conference of Dutch Religious have been especially implicated in these cases. At the same time, now that most of the furore has died down, there is a real risk that the efforts of the Church in the Netherlands to deal with the abuse crisis becomes invisible. And some would conclude that that means that nothing is happening. A more active role of the bishops and religious would then have the added benefit of negating this invisibility, although, it must be said, that can never be the main goal. As the bishops emphasise, the victims are always the reason and heart of any effort that is being undertaken.
It is a story that not so much indicts him as a criminal mastermind or even a bishop with ill will against his accusers, but depicts him much more as a bishop in a strange land who relied too much on his local clergy. The investigation into the abuse history in Iceland’s Diocese of Reykjavík mentions the name of emeritus Bishop Joannes Gijsen several times, most notably in the case of a man who accuses him of covering up a case of sexual abuse by a priest.
A bit of investigative journalism by Dutch blogger Remco van Mulligen reveals facts that the regular media avoids (in favour of partial and suggestive reporting). He outlines the case which is detailed in the report by Icelandic commission which looked into the matter, and we learn that it relates to abuse committed years ago by a now deceased priest of the Diocese of Reykjavík. Bishop Gijsen’s predecessor, Bishop Alfred Jolson met with the victim, who handed him a sealed letter outlining the case, and although the bishop assured the man that he would make sure nothing similar would happen in the future, the letter was left in the diocesan archives. When Bishop Gijsen arrived in 1996 he was urged to pick up the case again. He did so, met with the victim and both agreed that the letter should be destroyed, since there was no clear indication of sexual abuse. All this, according to Bishop Gijsen’s written statement to the commission. There is no letter and the victim is no longer alive.
The sad fact is that the priest in question, who was involved in other abuse cases as well, had an unrivaled position of power within the Icelandic church. Since all of Reykjavík’s bishops have come from abroad (the last four bishops were from the Netherlands, the United States and Switzerland), they relied heavily upon the local clergy, at least to get to know the local situation. No priest was more relied upon, at least by Bishop Gijsen, than one Fr. Ágúst George. And he is now revealed as the main perpetrator of more than one case of sexual abuse.
As Van Mulligen writes:
“The Commission creates a picture of the priest George as someone who saw bishops come and go, and wasn’t concerned by anyone or anything. Gijsen, for example, urged George several times to create an administration of what happened in his school [George served as headmaster of a Church-owned primary school]. The priest assured him he would, but did not keep his word. Gijsen allowed this to happen.”
Whatever the reasons that Bishop Gijsen had for not insisting on further investigation of the claims (for this case was not the only one that he, or Bishop Jolson, neglected), it is clear that more should have been done. Now, under current Bishop Pierre Bürcher, the sad extent of the sexual abuse by Fr. George and physical abuse by school teacher Margét Müller becomes clear only now.
Coupled with the fact that much of the diocesan archives from the period that Gijsen was bishop in Roermond are missing, we get the picture that Bishop Gijsen may have had the right intentions, he lacked the firm proactive hand that should have been employed when the first rumours became clear. It also shows that bishops have the duty to get to know their diocese and take an active role in the running of it, but administratively and pastorally.
With 6,938 visits last month, we’re back on the rise again after the summer slump. Thank you for your continued attention and interest, readers! Without much ado, let’s take a look at what interested you most, in the top 10 of most popular posts of October:
1: The Catholic voice 93
2: Synod of Bishops – Day Two 90
3: Synod of Bishops – Day Five 78
4: Back to Malta – an appointment with question marks 77
5: The little consistory 75
6: Participants, programs and indulgences – details of the Synod released 70
7: End of mission – Bishop Willigers passes away 68
8: Sexual abuse – the double standards of the state 57
9: Council survivors 55
10: Synod of Bishops – Day Nine 48
Lastly, as blogging, however much fun it is, is an investment of my time (albeit one I gladly make), I would like to draw your attention to the possibility of supporting this blog financially. There is a Paypal button in the left sidebar, and also at the bottom of this post. But any form of support, spiritually and practically, is very much appreciated.