And especially, how Dutch Catholic institutions tried to deal with it at the very start.
RTL News has unearthed a 1954 letter (translation here) from the then-Superior General of the Congregation of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, in these parts of Europe, better known as the Tilburg Fathers. It is a letter, as the preceding note says, that was intended to be read out by the superior when all the brothers are together – so its target audience was every single member of the Congregation.
What is striking about this letter is the attitude that the Superior-General expresses to the cases of abuse which, he writes, seemed to be on the rise. He does not say that such things only happen within the walls of the boarding schools that the congregation ran at the time. No, he writes, it can happen everywhere where adults teach children, and what’s worse, he seems to continue, it also happens among us Catholic brothers.
This is, in fact, not too dissimilar to what Pope Benedict XVI recently said:
“It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society. By the same token, just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.” [Address to the Bishops from the United States of America on their A”d Limina” visit, 26 November 2011]
The understanding of the crisis as being not limited to the Catholic Church seems to have been present at a very early stage.
While many media in and outside the Church take the discovery of the letter as evidence that the Church has been lying about not knowing about the abuse that took place in boarding schools and other Catholic institutions, I think the letter should be seen as what it is: an expression of concern and a serious admonishing to the brothers to take care of each other and to do all they can, making use of the means available, to prevent themselves and others falling in the trap of carnal lust and ultimately sexual abuse of minors. In hindsight, the approach may not have been the wisest, but the efforts from one religious congregation do not equate to the efforts of the entire Church.