A close call for a bishop

In the abuse crisis that we, for better or worse, have gotten somewhat acclimatised to, one of the most painful chapters is that of the castrations that took place to ‘cure’ men from homosexuality. Although this was, for a while, accepted medical practice, both in Church-run facilities and in secular institutions, the commotion about it is nothing but understandable.

Professor van Lieburg

Things seemed to get a bit worse this week, when medical historian Mart van Lieburg announced that he had evidence that an unnamed bishop had ordered the castration of a man sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. And that bishop would have still been alive. That last statement would have narrowed the number of possible names down to two. Of the Dutch bishops in the 1960s, only Bishops Jan Bluyssen (‘s Hertogenbosch, 1966-1983) and Huub Ernst (Breda, 1967-1992) are still alive today.

On Wednesday, during the same set of hearings in which Mr. Bakker of the previous blog post spoke, Professor van Lieburg came back from his initial statement, as Trouw reports today. He explains that a surgeon had been in contact with a bishop about castration: “The discussion with the surgeon took place over the telephone. I first want to hear on tape what he said precisely. But the conclusion that a bishop ordered castration is, as far as I’m concerned, premature. Perhaps, under the pressure of time, I didn’t express myself clearly.”

Contact between medical ethical committees and a bishop is not something that is cause for concern, Professor van Lieburg says.”There were medical ethical committees which discussed sensitive forms of treatment. There were Protestant ministers and also Catholic theologians on those committees. In the south, a surgeon would have likely had contact about that with someone from the Catholic Church.”

If anything, all this goes to show how much public perception has changed in the past 50 years. Although we don’t know the exact details of the contact that a bishop may have had with a surgeon who was to perform a castration, the response to even the possibility of it having happened is wildly different from the response that it would have received in the middle of the last century.

But that is no reason to say that, just because it was somewhat accepted at the time, we should just accept it now. It is in fact a very Catholic attitude to say that there is a morality that is not dependent on public opinion, but which exists because it is an integral part of creation. What was good and right in the past, is still that. The very same goes for what was bad and unjust.

Photo credit: RosaMedia


Victims first, communication second – parliament hears the contact group

Two days ago, the parliamentary committee on Safety and Justice heard various representatives of the Catholic Church and the Netherlands and victims of sexual abuse by clergy, among them Mr. John Bakker, accountant of the Diocese of Rotterdam and member of the contact group – the ‘safety net’ led by Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende. The main question that Mr. Bakker was asked to answer was this:

“The committee would like the present the question of which next step the ecclesial organisations (bishops’ conference and the orders and congregations) should take to answer the serious concerns in society, and especially those of the victims, considering the commotion surrounding especially the report that, within or under the influence of the Catholic Church or her organisations (including the orders and congregations), castration (and therefore serious physical violence) took  place as a remedy against, among others, homosexuality.

You can perhaps explain in which way one assumes to answer to this, and address the criticism of victims about the way the Catholic Church handles complaints.”

While Mr. Bakker explained how the contact group works – as an addition to and watchdog over the regular contacts between victims or their representatives and dioceses, orders and congregations -, repeated the assurance given by Cardinal Eijk and Brother Cees van Dam that the Church is fully willing to cooperate with civil authorities in cases connected to the castration reports, and emphasised the work of the legally independent Foundation of Management and Supervision concerning Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, he included some interesting paragraphs about the role of communication in the abuse crisis.

Communication is all-important, as the Church needs and wants to be fully transparent about the past abuses and the way she works towards compensation and recognition. But, Mr. Bakker (pictured) says:

“We note here that communication with victims needs be established carefully per person or group of victims. The Catholic Church’s aspiration towards public recognition and apology is, in a way, subordinate to that. What matters is what the Catholic Church can specifically do for people who, as minors, were victims of sexual abuse by a representative of the Church. To the degree that public recognition and apology are of service to that, it is sought.

The fact remains that, in many cases, the communication of the Catholic Church is a story of numbers (numbers of reports, complaints, etc.). But numbers never do credit to what sexual abuse has done to the lives of young people. And wherever the Catholic Church, in coordination with victims, has brought matters to a good close, and tires to deliver custom work as such, that is no more than fitting and what may be expected of the Church.”

The victims’ desire and need for recognition, compensation and apology takes a clear precedence over a mere superficial transparency in, say, the media. This is not the easiest road, perhaps, as the meetings between the contact group and the victims, as well as their results, take place behind close doors. Only when there are questions, like now from a parliamentary committee, or when victims want it, are things made public. It seems a proper attitude to have, but it does make the Church vulnerable to her enemies, who still make accusations of secrecy and the Church protecting her own.

But it is good to see that progress is made, especially by this contact group. I think it can play a major role in the process towards reconciliation.

Quotes in this post were taken from the note prepared by Mr. Bakker before the hearing. The full note is available, in Dutch, here.

Photo credit: Diocese of Rotterdam