Amid all the excitement pertaining to the concave and a new Pope comes a sobering report. The Deetman Commission has issued its second report about abuse in the Catholic Church. Where the first one dealt chiefly with sexual abuse of which mainly boys were victims, this second one dealt with cases of “excessive violence”, both sexual and physical, against girls under the care of Catholic institutions. While the Commission admits that it is not possible to formulate a definition of “excessive violence” that can be used in all cases, and the number of cases s far smaller than in the first investigation, there are several conclusions to be reached.
Concerning sexual abuse:
There is no quantitative difference with the results of the first investigations. There have been several tens of thousands of victims in the period between 1045 and 2010.
- Older and newer cases show similarities in important elements.
- In more than forty percent of the cases of sexual abuse of underage girls that were investigated there has been serious sexual abuse.
- Abuse of underage girls was more prevalent at home (40%) and in the parish (more than 30%). Sexual abuse of boys took place more often in institutions.
- In cases of “light” sexual abuse there have been male and female perpetrators within the Catholic Church. In “stronger” categories of sexual abuse the perpetrators were mostly male.
- In fifty percent of the cases sexual abuse was coupled with physical and/or psychological violence.
- The question of sexual abuse was discussed within monastic communities, courses, meetings and days of study on several levels, as early as the 1960s. The context then was completely limited to the monastic community itself and the relationships between sisters.
Concerning physical and psychological violence, environment and behaviour:
- Both the new and the older cases generally report a combination of physical and psychological violence, whether coupled with sexual abuse or not. The nature of the violent acts is also generally consistent, as are the duration and the frequency of the violence, which was longer than a year and repeatedly.
- The majority of the female victims was between 6 and 14 years of age when the sexual abuse and/or violence started. Most cases took place in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Whereas sexual abuse of girls most often occurred at home and in the parish, violence against underage women seems to have mostly taken place in institutions such as boarding school and hospitals.
- In cases of physical and psychological violence (without sexual abuse) both the new and the old reports indicate mostly female perpetrators, especially female religious who worked as teachers and caregivers.
- In roughly half of the cases the abuse and/or the violence was reported before, although often only after many years.
- A detailed investigation of archives, including those of ten sister congregations, offers no direct indications of violence and violent incidents. The commission found no reports of such incidents.
- From the archives investigated an image can be created of relations between sisters and girls and sisters among each other in a cold and cool environment in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
- In the 1960s school conferences under professional guidance paved the way for a change in behaviour. This was more on a level with new insights and by then standard developments in education.
The Commission found no current cases which it could forward to the Public Prosecutor to be investigated and submitted to a court of law. It did forward three older cases because of the serious nature of the abuse, although these too fall under the statute of limitations.
There is no evidence of structural abuse within the congregations, as far as sexual abuse is concerned. There are, however, doubts if the same can be said about physical violence.
A striking difference with the first report is that reports of abuse do not need the proof of evidence to be eligible for compensation, although the complaints do need to be plausible within the framework of the abuse that most likely occurred, as drafted by the Commission.
Although the extent and the nature of the abuse suffered by girls is generally and in important points different from that suffered by boys, it is of course no less serious.
On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Hans van den Hende offered a first comment in an interview for RKK. He agreed that the report was “shocking”, and said that it “is chilling to read, because it is about real, actual people.” Bishop van den Hende frequently speaks with victims and their representatives as chairman of the contact group tasked with solving those cases which have suffered a communications breakdown or came across some other obstacle. He says that, following the publication of this second report, the focus of the bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious must be on engaging with the victims in conversation, to hear their stories, recognise them, and reach a satisfactory solution.
Photo credit: ANP