“Why did no one sound the alarm before?” – an update on the work of the Deetman commission

I’ve been slacking a bit when it comes to blogging, I realise. Part of the reason is that the summer is still not completely over (although the weather would have us believe otherwise) and in the Church ordinary time trundles along, only punctuated here and there with some significant solemnities and Marian feasts. In other words, not a whole lot seems to be happening when it comes to the Church in the Netherlands.

But there is something interesting to write all the same. Wim Deetman, the chairman of the commission investigating abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, has given an update on the progress made so far. The commission has collected some 900 reports of abuse and pans to host two or three major meetings with victims in the autumn. These will of course be closed meetings, for which everyone who has come forward receives a personal invitation.

Mr. Deetman seems to use a very practical approach with an eye chiefly on the victims. He wants to open a separate channel for aid and care, since many victims do not wish to make use of the existing Hulp & Recht institute, which was established by the Church some ten years ago. “In that case you must investigate alternatives,” Mr. Deetman said. “It is important that the aid has an institutionalised framework.”

The vast majority of reports are about things that happened many years ago. “We’re still busy collating and investigating all reports, and we have not drawn conclusions. But I can already say that that the cases not subject to the statute of limitations can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The vast majority of facts dates from long ago.”

Deetman also expresses his amazement at how people could keep these facts to themselves for so long.”Why did no one sound the alarm before? […] You hear and read things that are beyond me. How do you even conceive of doing such things with children?”

In the meantime, the media prove to be a bit of an obstacle. Deetman has asked the editors of several media outlets for permission to use the facts they know in his investigation as well. But none seem to be too eager. About the 400 reports in their possession, NRC Handelsblad says, “just as we don’t cooperate with police requests, I don’t think we will be passing on the data which we have collected as journalists to Deetman.” The Wereldomroep says likewise,”We won’t give Deetman access to our files just like that. We have told people that we would treat their information with care. We will pass on Deetman’s request to the people who have come forward to us, so that they can decide for themselves.”

Freedom of press and all is fine, but this seems to be very counterproductive. The position taken by the Wereldomroep is understandable when it comes to leaving the decision to the victims, but generally keeping the data secret seems to me like a willful prevention of reaching the openness and honesty that the same media demanded from the Church earlier.

The return of Fr. Paul Vlaar

Father Paul Vlaar will return to the parish in Obdam on 19 September. This marks the end of two-month dispensation following his much-criticised Orange Mass. He has spent four weeks at the abbey in Egmond, in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the same diocese where he also works. Thursday he left as a pilgrim for Lourdes, and he will offer his first Mass in Obdam on the aforementioned 19 September.

Of the past two months, Fr. Vlaar himself says: “I felt seriously punished and I was very recalcitrant. I was at a loose end. […] I had promised improvement to the bishop before. But I broke that promise with the ‘orange Mass’. A response from the bishop was only a matter of time.”

A hopeful comment on the whole situation, which, after all, must have been difficult for Fr. Vlaar just as much as it was for other parties involved.The issues raised following the orange Mass were of various natures, but there were all serious concerns, chiefly when it comes to liturgy and pastoral care. Both of these influence one another as well: liturgy is also a form of pastoral care, since a priest leads his congregation to God by means of the liturgy.

Let’s hope and pray that the reflection of the past two months and the influence of abbey and Lourdes will support Fr. Vlaar in his future ministry.