Right and left hands

Once more, a fact-finding legal investigation into a clerical abuse case shows how stunningly underdeveloped the communication between Church bodies has been and – for all we know – still is. In the southwest Dutch town of Middelburg, Bishop Hans van den Hende of Breda and Father Herman Spronck, provincial of the Dutch Salesians have been heard this week about an abuse case involving a Salesian priest who was employed as a parish priest by the Diocese of Breda in the 1980s and was convicted of sexual abuse of minors in 1990. It later transpired that he had been guilty of abuse before coming to work in Breda. The ordinary at the time, Bishop Huub Ernst, immediately fired the priest when his history became known.

Fr. Spronck has explained in a letter to the court that the Salesians never bothered to inform the diocesan curia of Breda about the priest’s past. The letter also makes clear that the priest fell under the jurisdiction of the Salesians and not the diocese, which is the core of the case that the victim tries to build: who can be held responsible for the priest’s crimes?

The Salesian letter says “that, at the time of the appointment of Mr. N. to Terneuzen, they did not communicate at all with the diocese about the history of Mr. N. This happened neither before or over the course of the appointment.” Fr. Spronck also said that the Diocese of Breda should have investigated the priest they appointed themselves as well.

Bishop van den Hende declared before the court that the diocesan archives contain nothing but the appointment and dismissal letters of the priest in question. All that the bishop knows about the case is second-hand, which makes sense, since he was only appointed to Breda in 2006.

I don’t think this is what Christ meant when he said, “Let not your left hand know what your right hand does” (Matt. 6:3).

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