Bishops fully accept advice from Deetman

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.

For those who still claim the pope is silent on abuse

En route to Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI was asked if the third Secret of Fátima, which speaks of attacks on the pope and the Church, can be applied to the current abuse crisis. The pope answered:

“Today we can discover in this message that attacks on the pope and the church come not only from the outside, but the suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sins that exist inside the church. This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The biggest weight on the church doesn’t come from the enemies outside but is born from sin inside the church.

And so the church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice.”


25 years after the pope came to visit

Pope John Paul II with Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus

Twenty-five years ago today, Pope John Paul II set foot on Dutch soil, for the start of a papal visit that has gone down in history as rather disgraceful. Interest among Dutch Catholics was low and many of those who did pay attention to the visit, did so to protest against the Church. It was the start of the notorious 8 May movement of liberal ‘Catholics’ who thought (and still think) that the faith is something we all make for ourselves, that individualism is the holy grail (if you’ll pardon the pun) of personal fulfillment. The fruits of what’s mistakenly called the ‘fruits of Vatican II’ became painfully visible, and we are still recovering from that.

De Telegraaf has a short article that looks back on this visit. In it, Cardinal Simonis, at the time the archbishop of Utrecht and not yet a cardinal, says: “‘Interesting’. Those were the words of Pope John Paul II after his visit. I apologised for the cold reception. The Netherlands was the worst papal visit ever. He reacted very sportsmanlike.”

The cardinal says the reason for the failure was that everyone wanted to enter into discussion with the pope. “The elderly wanted to discuss getting old. The young wanted this, the gay people wanted that. But that’s what bishops are for. The pope is not a superbishop.”

The end of the four-day visit was a relief. “There had been death threats. Also to me. I spent ten days under police protection.”

“It was a failure. There was no enthusiasm but antipathy. And the unavoidable dose of Dutch antipapism.”

And how about a visit from the current pope?

“Oh no, please not. That would not be wise. The pope has other matters to attend to now.”

“Apart from a shepherd, this pope is an intellectual. He has better uses for his time. Besides, he is 83 years old. You shouldn’t do that to the man at that age. The Dutch are also rather stubborn and headstrong, so there is a great risk that Pope Benedict XVI will be received the same way.”

I don’t fully agree with the cardinal about that last part, but I do think a papal visit would be very unwise. There is very little to gain by it, no matter how much I would personally like it. To an extent, the antipapist trends that developed around the 1985 visit have died down. The 8 May movement no longer exists and its supporters are overwhelmingly elderly. But there is still a lot of antipathy, and society as a whole is not very pro-Catholic, let alone pro-pope. While protests won’t be as vocal from the Catholics, I fear they’ll be all the more vocal from the secular camp.

The state of the Church in the Netherlands is, as my bishop put it in a different context, fragile but hopeful. It does not yet warrant the pope coming here. Instead, for the foreseeable future, it is more proper if we (ideally represented by our bishops) go to him when needed.

So, when’s that ad limina visit? Scandinavia and England and Wales have recently been, Belgium is in Rome now, so I would not be surprised if it’s coming up soon.