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In the past week, a settlement scheme has been created for the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the Netherlands. As a matter of course, the bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious agreed with the plan. The plan, which aims at speedy recompense and settlement, has five stages of financial compensation, based on the type of abuse that was committed.

  • Sexual acts or expressions which damage the physical or mental integrity: €5,000
  • Touching of private parts: €7,500
  • Touching of private parts over a prolonged period: between €10,000 en €20,000 depending on frequency, gravity and additional circumstances
  • Rape, once or several times: €25,000
  • Excessive sexual abuse, with substantial and verifiable damage to the victim: a maximum of €100,000

Victim support groups, such as Mea Culpa and Klokk are carefully satisfied with the plan, although some details, and the speed with which the bishops responded are not entirely to their wishes. Klokk, oddly enough, wants to be involved in establishing a pan of compensation and bringing the victims into contact with the bishops and the religious. Something that, in my opinion, has already happened, partly by the above plan.

Wim Deetman, who led the committee which set all this in motion, gives the advice that the conferences of bishops and religious need to acknowledge the abuse and be sympathetic to the victims. I think they have at east partially done so already, although there is always room for improvement. Another suggestion by Deetman may speed this improvement along: he suggests the appointment of one bishop who can be the link between victims and conferences. I think Bishop Gerard de Korte (right) has done this for the most part already: he is at least the face of the bishops’ conference in these matters, having appeared in television and in other media to discuss it.

In the past year or so, they way that the Church deals with the abuse crisis has crystallised into a system which can get things done, although it is still plagued by that most Dutch of problems: bureaucracy. If that problem can be solved, I think we are on the right track, although much work still needs to be done, especially when it comes to the contacts with the victims.

In a succinct yet thorough advice, the Lindenbergh Commission, established by the bishops’ conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious, has published their recommendations regarding financial compensation to victims of sexual abuse by priests, religious and others employed by Catholic institutions.

In essence, the advice foresees the creation of a collective financial responsibility for all Catholic institutions. In five categories, the Lindenbergh Commission recommends financial compensation ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 euros. An independent commission of non-Catholics is to judge the compensation in individual cases. No accused party may refer to the statute of limitations to avoid payment, and neither is appeal an option.

It’s a strict and clear advice, which has been welcomed by victims’  associations and spokesmen. Speaking for the bishops and religious, Bishop Gerard de Korte and Brother Cees van Dam have repeated that the interest of the victim comes first. They will be studying the advice given, and will await another report about the reorganisation of aid organisation Hulp & Recht, before deciding on the actual implementation.

Read the full report (in Dutch) here.

“Please come forward, because there is a great problem! Not only within the Roman Catholic Church, but in a broader context in society. That problem was created because of the perpetrators and they can help making that problem smaller, also in the interest of victims. So that is a moral call: come forward.”

Words spoken today by Dr. Wim Deetman in a radio interview, aimed at the perpetrators of abuse, sexual and otherwise, within the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. Deetman and his commission gave been working largely in silence since December, but this plea is an important part of the work they are doing. In order to be able to present as complete a picture of the situation and its causes, Deetman needs the perpetrators to come forward just as much, if not more, as the victims have done. The former have until 4 April to do so. And if they don’t? Well, the commission has a list of possible perpetrators and they will be contacting them themselves after 4 April.

“There can be no doubt about that. And a question will then be: why didn’t you come forward? That is also important for the victims to get clarity about the past and so be able to accept the past.”

Many cases that the Deetman commission have been investigating happened many years or decades ago and therefore fall under the statute of limitations. Six cases have been passed on to the Public Prosecutor, but Deetman does not expect that number to rise very much. Closed cases are also not free from investigation.

“When cases have been closed, there may have been good reasons, let me make that clear. But you should investigate if that has happened with just cause. I can’t bear to think that I get asked at the end of the year: did you consider that they were closed for bad reasons? And that the answer would then be: no, we just mindlessly assumed so, but didn’t look into it. That can’t be true.”

The bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious accept and support Deetman’s call. They will communicate it internally in orders and dioceses, and, by mouth of Bishop Gerard de Korte and Brother Cees van Dam, have said they won’t just appeal to the conscience of people but also make use the legal measures available within dioceses, orders and congregations.

Following yesterday’s publication of the first report by the Deetman Commission, the news of the Dutch Church’s abuse crisis has broken internationally. Not all of the international headlines refer to proper news, speaking as they do about the number of reports made to Hulp & Recht (almost 2,000), which has been known for at least a number of weeks already. Most articles luckily also mention the main points from yesterday’s report, and also the preliminary response from the Dutch bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious.

That response is not very remarkable, but considering the attention the case has received lately, I will offer a translation below. The text will also be available via the Translations tab above, but I think this is important enough to warrant a place on the main page of my blog.

—————-

Press release following the publication of the report by the Deetman Commission
 
Utrecht / ‘s-Hertogenbosch, 9 December 2010
 
The Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) have taken notice today of the report Towards help, recompense, openness and transparency from the Commission for research into sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church (Deetman Commission). The superiors of the KNR and the bishops value giving thanks to and complimenting commission chairman drs. W. J. Deetman, the members and the researchers for the fast and professional handling of this first research task considering aid to the victims.
 
The bishops and superiors of the KNR once again underline that they forcefully denounce any form of sexual abuse. There can and should be no room for sexual abuse within the Church. Abuse is at odds with the Gospel and the dignity of the human person and the inviolability of children. To all victims, religious superiors and bishops once again offers their heartfelt sympathy and apologies. But apologies alone are not enough.
 
On 11 May of this year, religious and bishops agreed with the research proposal as formulated by former Speaker of the House drs. W. Deetman. This offered priority to advice about the aid to the victims. Then (and now) the bishops and religious superiors consider it of great importance to hear from the Commission where additions to the aid offered is desired and how the existing procedure may be optimised.
 
The religious superiors and the bishops also expressed their trust that the Deetman Commission conducts a transparent, independent and scientific investigation. The victims especially have a right to independence and transparency. In addition, they are indispensable for the Church to help the victims as well as possible and to effectively prevent abuse in the future. The report now presented is the direct result of that. But an independent and transparent investigation alone is not  enough.
 
The report presented today, with conclusions and recommendations, offers much food for thought, decision and implementation. The Conference of Dutch Religious, the Bishops’ Conference and the Church body Hulp & Recht established by them will now enter into consultation to study the consequences of the advice of the Deetman Commission and its implementation. To assure an effective process, agreements will be made as soon as possible.

Prof. Lindenbergh, the chairman of the commission

Possibly in response to questions raised (especially in the United States) about the legal position of dioceses, religious orders, bishops, and the Vatican when it comes to child abuse cases, the Dutch bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious have created a commission that will look into exactly that. The three-person commission consists of Prof. Mr. Siewert D. Lindenbergh (chairman), professor in Civil Law at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam; Mr. Jacqueline Meyst-Michels, a lawyer specialising in liability and injury law, especially in the medical field; and Mr. Joost Wildeboer, a lawyer specialising in injury and insurance law.

The new commission is tasked to take all relevant aspects of limitations, liability and damages according to civil and church law into account and come with an advice in early 2011. Until then, they will be working in private, being unavailable for the media until the aforementioned aspects have been considered.

An attempt to save skins, or to create clarity? The optimist in me favours the latter, and I think it has things going for it. Although the Netherlands is not (yet) a society as fond of the courtroom as the United States, the legal battles fought there do offer a lesson. How should the law treat a diocese or a bishop? Are they autonomous entities or employees of the Vatican or the local archbishop? Church law and customs have answers, but are these the same as the answers that civil law has?

The abuse crisis is not over. The accusations and stories of terrible crimes are being collected now. It remains to be seen how the legal battle turns out.

The Dutch bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious have today fully accepted the proposal for an investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, from 1945 to today. Msgr. Gerard de Korte, spokesman on the abuse issues, announced this in a press conference.

This is the text of the press release, in my translation:

Press release Dutch Bishops’ Conference and Conference of Dutch Religious on proposal for investigation sexual abuse

Utrecht, 11 May 2010 – The Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) have today expansively discussed the proposal for investigation of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. They express an honest word of gratitude towards drs. W. J. Deetman who has succeeded in presenting a thorough and very complete proposal on short notice.

The bishops and the manager of the KNR once again emphasise that they condemn forcefully every form of sexual abuse. Abuse is contrary to the Gospel and the dignity of the human person. To those who were victims of abuse within the Catholic Church, religious superiors and bishops again offer their heartfelt sympathy and apologies. Victims who have not yet come forward are called to do so at either Hulp & Recht or the committee.

The number of reports of abuse necessitates a thorough investigation, according to religious superiors and bishops. On 9 March of this year they asked Mr. Deetman to advise them on how to best shape a broad, external and independent investigation. The asked the former chairman of parliament to gather the required expertise, formulate a plan and set out a timeline.

The bishops and the managers of the KNR fully agree with the proposal as it is now and the intended composition of the committee. They promise their full cooperation and will work to make all relevant information available to the committee. In that context they support the call from Mr. Deetman to the perpetrators of sexual abuse to come forward and report to the committee.

Regarding the time line, the bishops and religious superiors agree that priority will be given to advice on the aid to the victims. Although relief is already started through the procedures of Hulp & Recht or through meetings between victims and confidential counsellors of dioceses, orders and congregations, the bishops and religious superiors consider it very important to hear from the committee on short notice whether the available help is desired and how existing procedures may be optimised.

Bishops and managers of the KNR request Mr. Deetman to take on the duties of chairman of the committee. They thank the members of the committee who are willing to participate in the investigation. The religious superiors and the bishops have full confidence that this committee will run a transparent, independent and scientific investigation. That independence and transparency is exactly what the victims have a right to and which is necessary for the Church to help the victims as well as possible and to effectively prevent future abuse.

***

In my opinion this is the best decision they could have made. This is such an enormous issue, both in size and gravity, that the only way to reach a solution is full openness. A patient can’t cure himself. He needs someone else for that, someone who can clinically and objectively consider the problem, analyse it and search for a solution. In the case of the abuse crisis, the Church needs it to heal and the victims need it be heard and recognised.

Yes, I do expect there will be very painful consequences as more cases emerge and conclusions are drawn. Painful for the victims, for the responsible parties, offenders but certainly also religious superiors and bishops, and painful for all Catholics. But that is what we need now. Healing can hurt sometimes, nothing to be done about it. We can no longer tranquilise ourselves in a culture of silence.

In the course of 2011 there will be a report with an overview of what happened, how it could have happened and exactly what penance and justice, according to Church and state, must be achieved. But the slate will then be clean.

Deetman during the press conference

In The Hague, Wim Deetman is wrapping up his press conference where he presented the advice that he has given to the Dutch bishops’ conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) about how they should tackle the abuse crisis. I’ve been taking notes as the details were given, and there are two main points I want to highlight. First of all the five points on which the investigation must focus, and secondly the people who will form the committee. The two conferences will be discussing the advice on Tuesday. As Dr. Deetman said, his is only an advice. We must wait until Tuesday to see how it will be received and implemented, but, judging by the attitude of the bishops and the KNR towards Deetman’s work, I would be very surprised if they did not take this advice in total.

The five main points of the investigation:

  1. The committee must collect data, either via the existing lists of known victims or, if these are not adequate, via their own survey. They should not only appeal to the victims, but also to the offenders, if these are yet unknown.
  2. Archives: Deetman decided to look at the period from 1945 until now, so that requires a certain amount of archival work. This will also allow show how authorities dealt with abuse in the past.
  3. Comparison: Once collected, the numbers must be compared to the data from outside the Catholic Church and the Netherlands. The question of whether this is a problem endemic to Catholic institutions or to the Netherlands, or if it is wider social problem must be answered. The answers may seem clear now, but they must be supported by facts.
  4. How could it have happened? What is the reason for the ‘culture of silence’, as Deetman put it? Society and the norms that were used, within and without Catholic circles, must be considered, as well as the legal framework. This calls for historical and sociological research.
  5. The future. Advice about that can only be based on the investigation, but it is a clear goal for the committee.

Deetman expects that the investigation will take one year to eighteen months, at the most. Then the answers must be clear.

The committee:

Deetman suggests a core of five people to form the committee. If needed, they can appoint others for specific topics and expertise. They are:

  1. Dr. Nel Draijer, professor in Trauma and Personality at the Medical Centre of the Free University of Amsterdam, for her practical experience.
  2. Mr. Pieter Kalbfleisch, Chairman of the board of the Netherlands Competition Authority, for his experience as a judge.
  3. Prof. Dr. Harald Merkelbach, professor of Psychology at the University of Maastricht and member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, for the psychological angle.
  4. Prof. Dr. Marit Monteiro, professor of History of Dutch Catholicism at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, for the historical and sociological side.
  5. Prof. Dr. Eng. Gerard de Vries, member of the Scientific Council of Government Policy and professor in Philosophy of Science at the University of Amsterdam, for an empirical weighing of the facts.

This advice generally follow what the conferences asked, but in some cases, Mr. Deetman advised an increased focus on things where he felt that was needed. Among these is the care for the victims. Although the committee will perform a factual investigation, but it will also take an immediate and close look at the support that exists for the victims. As he said, “There is no excess of specialists in the Netherlands”, so in order for the investigation to proceed adequately, the support and guidance that exists must be firmly established and well-documented.

A second point which Deetman added was an agreement with the office of the Attorney General that if there is a suspicion that a crime does not fall under the statute of limitations, those involved will be informed, so that they can still press charges if they so wish.

On Tuesday, the bishops and the KNR will release a press statement in which they’ll respond to this advice.

Yesterday the Dutch bishops announced that on 7 May Dr. Wim Deetman will present his advice about the independent investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. Deetman was appointed to assemble a committee for the investigation and to establish how the investigation would proceed.

On 11 May the bishops and the Conference of Dutch religious will come with a joint statement about their reaction to Deetman’s advice. Until that date they will not respond on the content.

It’s all a bit later than expected (Deetman originally expected to be done before the end of this month), but it’s good to see it’s going ahead with only a minor delay. The investigation will be an independent one, which, I assume, is one of the reason that a non-Catholic was appointed to form the committee and give the advice.

Following Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam, Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden also writes a pastoral letter to the faithful in his diocese about the abuse crisis. Bishop de Korte is the official spokesman of the bishops’ conference about this issue.
 
Dear brothers and sisters,
 
The truth sets free
 
In the past weeks we have been confronted with a very dark page in the history of our church. Following a publication in NRC Handelsblad about sexual abuse of minors, especially in Catholic boarding schools, there has been a flood of responses. Many hundreds of people claim to have been abused as children in boarding schools. Most reports concern abuse between 1950 and 1975. The news strongly affected many within and without the Church. People are angry and confused. Children, who should be especially safe with brothers, priests and religious, have proven to be injured in their integrity. This calls forth deep feelings of substitute shame.
 
The Dutch bishops also share these feelings. During the meeting on 9 March they, in close cooperation with the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR), decided in favour of an open and independent investigation. We should not fear the truth. On the contrary, the truth sets free. In this question all must be revealed. The bishops have asked me to be responsible for the file on sexual abuse, and to be spokesman on the issue. I consider that a great responsibility, which I gladly take on in light of the importance of this case.
 
I am glad that former secretary Deetman is willing to act as mediator for the formation of the investigation committee. He hopes to have formed a strong committee and good research questions by the end of April. I am counting on a thorough historical, sociological and juridical investigation. In that way the nature and size of the abuse may be charted. It may also clarify how priests, brothers and other religious could become offenders. Justice must also be done to the victims. It is very understandable that they want to tell their story and look for recognition. The investigative committee will advice the bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) on how to do further justice to the victims and to penalise the offenders, if possible. Finally, the committee will help our faith community to prevent abuse, today and tomorrow. The dignity and integrity of children and adults must be absolutely safe in our Church. Abuse within the Church is perfectly intolerable. No infraction can be tolerated in this area.
 
I am getting multiple signals from our parishes. Many parishioners are saddened. The news about sexual abuse is to them part of a string of negative news about the Church. It makes some insecure and demotivates others. There are even faithful who honestly wonder if they want to remain part of our faith community.
 
But I also hear other sounds from the parishes. There are faithful who are irritated by the one-sided attention in the media, as if sexual abuse only took and takes place in our Church. I can well understand this reaction but consider it not very fortunate at the moment. Sadly, abuse takes place everywhere in our society. In the world of sports, health care, education and, not least, in families. A good overview places the abuse within the Church in past and present in the right perspective. But I think that, as Catholics, we must look honestly at ourselves now. The dirt in someone else’s street does not make our own street less dirty. The committee will have to determine the nature and size of the dirt. A thorough purification is the only fruitful response.
 
Because of the news abut sexual abuse, the ship of the Church is in stormy weather. But we know that, in her two-thousand-year history, she has survived more crises. We may be certain that we’ll weather this crisis too. Exactly because of an open and transparent attitude we may show that the faith community is willing to be purified. It’s not without reason that the Second Vatican Council speaks of the need of constant purification of the Church. That is how the current council may be ultimately beneficial for the future.
 
We are in Lent and are focussing on the suffering and death of Christ. The powers of evil in this world brought Him to the cross. The cross still takes a central position in the life of many. I think today in the first place of the victims of sexual abuse, but also of many others. Many loyal faithful feel the pain of the abuse in their own body. But we believe that the cross does not have the final word. The light of Easter morning gives us a new perspective. The Risen Lord is among us and carries the sorrow and the pain with us. In that faithful trust we can continue to shape the imitation of Christ in our faith communities.
 
+ Gerard de Korte
bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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[Dutch] Internationale Theologencommissie - Sensus Fidei in het Leven van de Kerk.

30 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor het Katholieke Jongerenfestival.

19 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Interview in La Vanguardia.

18 May: [English] Pietro Cardinal Parolin - Homily at the consecration of Archbishop van Megen.

15 May: [English] Ane Hähnig - Interview with Michael Triegel.

3 May: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor de Wereldgebedsdag voor Roepingen 2014.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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