1954 letter concerning sexual abuse of minors

Tilburg, June 1954

Note: I have long hesitated about sending this circular letter. Yet I believe it is good to do so. The Superior himself should read it out, preferably in Chapel and on Solitary Sunday. After reading, the circular letter must remain with the Superior and not be displayed for reading.

Reverend Brother Director and brothers,

You will remember that, on 27 April last, I sent you a circular letter which included in extenso a letter from the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, discussing the meaning and the important task the educating Brother congregations have in the life of Holy Church. After careful study of this papal document, I dare to claim that:

  1. It is a blessing for the children to be able to go to school with religious. They share in the fruits of our joint life in God, with its prayers, sacrifices and work. Religious can fully devote themselves to their tasks. When a monk answers his vocation, Christ works in him, through him, with him, and his task must therefore be effective: I can do everything in He who strengthens me.
  2. Indirectly, our own task is a blessing for families, yes, for all society.
  3. The same must be said about Holy Church. She blooms when she has holy priests, monastics, Christians. Priests and monastics have ever been signs of Gods Church and she considers them indispensable. The above is obviously only valid if the religious truly answer to their call and let their self-sanctification prevail in everything. If this would be lacking the conditions for fruitful labour decay, yes, even run the risk of becoming a scandal for Gods Church, for the children, the families, society. Instead of promoting, through these labours of love, their own salvation and that of others, they run towards their own temporal and eternal misfortune and are cause of those entrusted to their care running of the right path.

That this possibility is not imaginary, we learn from our own monastic laws. If we would collect the passages from the Constitutions, Directorium, Lawful Uses and school regulations which involve the dangers related to our charitable works, we would have a document of respectable size. As a concerned Mother, which both Holy Church and the Congregation are, she warns her children continuously, knowing that a warned person is doubly careful. During his earthly life, Christ himself made his warning voice heard and called woe over he who gave scandal.

The worldly authorities also established measures to protect her young citizens against older ones, however sad that may sound. Facts repeatedly show that these measures were not unnecessary. Publications from the Department of Education, A. and S. time and again include of names of so-called guardians-educators whose teaching license was removed because they were guilty of what the Law calls: adultery with underage persons. You can perhaps imagine what suffering hides behind such facts. Suffering for the teacher involved who temporarily exchanges his home or the prison cell with all the shame it involves; suffering because of expulsion from a profession or calling, which took him years of training, while he doesn’t know where to, because this specific training makes him practically unsuitable for anything else; suffering in the families which are disgraced and are exposed to the gossip of people; suffering for the abused children, who later all the easier become seducers, or have to fight a hard fight in the most difficult years of their lives.

It is also sad to have to conclude that such failures also occur among Catholic laity, yes, even among monastics. And yet these have a treasure of means of grace, of precautions, which the other camp does not know. Their fall is therefore all the sadder, all the more because the scandal they case is often attributed to larger groups.

When we acknowledge all this, should we not therefore wonder that there are always educators who expose themselves to such a school disaster. We need not look far for the cause. The nature of man, spoiled by the original sin, is weak and inclined to evil. One of the strongest passions in man is carnal lust. It happens so often that this inclination is used by man in contradiction to Gods purpose, solely to satisfy himself. Usually it starts with unnecessary touching, caressing of head and limbs not covered by clothing. When this takes place without need and out of carnal affection, one undoubtedly proceeds to touch those parts of the body which are covered. Even if this were limited to the thigh, this would be punishable according to Dutch Civil Law. Conviction leads to dispensation from the license to teach and one calls down shame and misery over oneself and others. Such a person should have been witness to the despair of parents who hear of their child falling. What is even worse, though, one usually greatly insults the good God, because one usually, if not always, performs such actions for the experience of carnal pleasure for oneself.

Woe the man who refuses to acknowledge his own weakness and trusts on his own strengths. He will soon find that he can only fall and sin.

In recent years, adultery with children has happened more frequently than in the past. The causes come from the spirit of the times: a lack of modesty in clothing, stickiness in some children by too weekly, lackluster education at home, lack of piety and weakness of will, self-indulgence and an aversion to penitence and mortification, pride and self-will which disdain wise provisions and regulations.

We are aware that, in a certain circle of educators, at the close of every meeting, the Chairman warns: Men, do be careful in the handling of children and do not make yourself unhappy for the rest of your life. Keep your hands to yourself. Let us, Brothers, instead listen to the pressing warnings of God, of Gods Holy Church, of our good Mother the Congregation who speaks to use in the monastic rules and through Superiors, then we will, through steady prayer and ascetic love, grow in the love of God and He will be our strength in the care for His children. Let us adhere to the suggestion of the Directorium, to daily pray extra to keep the purity of body and soul for ourselves and others. We must support each other with all means and in all possible ways to avoid the dangers which can flow from our beautiful vocation.

Let especially the brothers who are more strongly carnally disposed go through life at Mary’s side and make use of the means indicated above. They especially must be honestly open to the spiritual leader and their superior.

With fr. gr. t. t. in Xto,

Br. M. Canisius

Sup.-Gen.

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