In his blog, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York has published his first message for St. Patrick’s Day. He takes the opportunity to write extensively about the Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Departing from the Jewish Sabbath, Archbishop Dolan goes into much detail about the Sunday being the visible sign of the covenant between God and man, a covenant, he says, which is the very reason of creation. A highly recommended read and, yes, it is also available in Dutch.
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