One of the first things that Pope Francis asked of the bishops he has called to Rome to take part in the meeting on the protection of minors in the Church, which opens today, was that they meet with victims. This is something that victims themselves had also generally demanded, as a part of the recognition of their suffering: that the Church see them, hear them, understand what they had gone through. In the Netherlands, the Dutch bishops have made efforts to do so since the crisis broke here some nine years ago.
Bishop Hans van den Hende, chairman of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and as such a participant in the meeting, decribes the context of his meetings with victims as follows:
“Several times I have met and spoken with victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes they were people who did not want a procedure, but who did want to tell their story. Most often the meetings were a part of the sessions of the complaints commissions of the reporting authority. Also in the framework of the socalled contact group, there has in some cases been direct contact with victims, because their procedures had stagnated. These meetings were a confrontation every single time. As a bishop you act on behalf of the community of the Church. Often the accused had already passed away. Many people have been marked by the abuse and I could see that speaking about the personally suffered abuse is difficult and requires courage.”
Bishop van den Hende sees the meeting as a unique event, the first in its kind, and forms his expectation around the goals expressed by Pope Francis:
“The pain and shame for the abuse of minors has been felt for years inside and outside the Church. This is the first time that the problem of abuse of minors in the Church is discussed in a special meeting of the worldwide Church. Pope Francis has indicated that he has three things in mind with this meeting: to make bishops across the world aware of the abuse and make them recognise it, commitment of the worldwide episcopate to engage this problem, plus communal moments of prayer and penance.”
The Dutch approach has always had a sharing with the rest of society in mind. This was a recommendation of the Deetman Commission, which executed the independent investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. As part of this effort, the Commission’s final report was translated into English and communicated to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Dutch experience, Bishop van den Hende explains, is in a sense unique and may well be a valuable contribution to the meeting:
“In the Netherlands the bishops and religious are fully aware of the seriousness of the abuse of minors by people of the Church. Together they chose at the time for an independent investigation and an independent procedure to achieve recognition and compensation for victims, and also support. Elsewhere in the world you do not often see such cooperation or joint approach.”
Although no details have emerged about yesterday’s private audience of Bishop Hans van den Hende and Dr. Wim Deetman with Pope Francis, the mere names of the participants make it virtually impossible to not conclude that the abuse crisis must have been at the heart of the encounter.
Bishop van den Hende (at right) is the bishop of Rotterdam and the president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and, as such, will take part in February’s meeting in Rome with all the heads of the world’s bishops’ conference to discuss the abuse crisis and formulate a unified response. Dr. Deetman, former education minister and mayor of The Hague, headed the investigation into historical sexual abuse within the Catholic Church on behalf of the bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious.
A recent study by the Dutch Broadcast Foundation (NOS) reveals that, in the seen years since the publication of the Deetman Commission’s conclusions, there have been 103 background checks on priests who were under consideration of being transferred or appointed in one of the Dutch dioceses. In one case a bishop blocked such a transfer or appointment because of past abuse claims against the priest involved. Similarly, a further 46 claims of “unacceptable behaviour” have been made since 2015, eight of which involved sexually unacceptable behaviour committed after the publication of the Deetman report. These all involved adults, not minors, and three of the claims are still under investigation. Two of the claims involve an unnamed religious movement which does not fall under the authority of a bishop and is also not a member of the Conference of Dutch Religious. An unidentified auxiliary bishop has informed the Vatican and the police about the movement and the claims against them, as well as his own bishop, who is keeping an eye on the developing situation.
Also interesting in light of the private audience is a letter sent to the participants in the meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church”, scheduled to take place from 21 to 24 February. The letter, issued by the organising committee consisting of Cardinals Cupich and Gracias, Archbishop Scicluna and Father Zollner, emphasised that “Absent a comprehensive and communal response, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.” The authors urge the Conference presidents to reach out to and meet with victims before the meeting, something which the Dutch bishops, as well as bishops from other countries, have been doing over the last few years. In other countries, however, this is something new.* The letter concludes: “[E]ach of us needs to own this challenge, coming together in solidarity, humility, and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency, and holding everyone in the Church accountable.”
As said, it will probably remain unknown what Bishop van den Hende and Dr. Deetman discussed with the Pope, unless one of them chooses to reveal something, but if the abuse crisis was discussed, perhaps the actions of the Dutch bishops, which can be an example of correct policies, not just for the Church, but for society as a whole, will influence the preparations of the February meeting in a constructive and positive way.
* A recent development from the Archdiocese of Cologne comes to mind, where a priest from Cameroon had been working among the French-speaking faithful. This despite the fact that he had been laicised in his home diocese. However, for his work abroad, his bishop is said to have issued letters confirming his good standing… The exact details remain unclear. The laicisation is aid to have taken place in 2013, and there is talk of an emeritus bishop of the Archdiocese of Bertoua having provided credentials to the former priest. The only living emeritus archbishop of that see is Belgian-born Roger Pirenne, who retired in 2009. Why credentials were seemingly issued by a retired bishop, instead of current Archbishop Joseph Atanga, remains unclear. It is clear, however, that the abuse issues is not yet being taken seriously in all parts of the world. Let’s hope that the February meeting can do something to change that.
New revelations about sexual abuse, with the knowledge of a significant number of bishops no less, in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands? If certain headlines are to be believed, that is indeed the case. Reality, however, disagrees somewhat.
It all started with this article in major daily NRC. In it, reporter Joep Dohmen lists which bishops were in some way involved (peripherally or directly) in abuse cases between 18945 and 2010. At the bottom of his article he lists his sources, two of which are the report of the Deetman Commission and the commission collecting claims of abuse in the Church. Both are the result of the independent investigation which was commissioned by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious in 2010. The third source is a study by NRC itself.
This, together with the dates mentioned, already shows that the news is not new. The majority of cases took place decades ago, and the 20 bishops listed by Mr. Dohmen are all no longer active (in fact, 14 of them are deceased). All of the cases mentioned have been known at least since 2011.
Having all the facts straight can only be good, and the article in NRC at least serves as a good reminder for the Church to keep working for the victims and to do everything to prevent future abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the Church, and to see that the perpetrators are punished, if at all possible (after all, the law can do little against deceased persons, and is in many cases often limited by the statute of limitations). However, the NRC article has been labelled by some as populist. This in part because some of the facts presented are not necessarily the whole story. For example, the accusations against Bishop Jo Gijsen (bishop of Roermond from 1972 to 1993) have been challenged in court, with the judge determining that the evidence against the bishop was accepted all too readily and does not hold up in a court of law, and there are cases in which a bishop accepted the appointment of a bishop from another diocese without having been informed about his background.
That said, all of the above does not take anything away from the serious nature of sexual abuse, be it in the Church or elsewhere. No longer does any bishop have the excuse of claiming he couldn’t have known, or resort to simply transferring an abusive priest. Any bishop caught doing that should rightly be charged with aiding an abuser, and be punished accordingly.
However, this is the luxury of hindsight. As former spokesman of the bishops’ conference Jan-Willem Wits states in his excellent commentary on the article, such was the simple and painful reality:
“What I personally do not believe, and yet somehow read in the NRC pieces, is that bishops were a sort of leaders of a virtual criminal organisation which consciously closed its eyes to priests who could not control themselves. Of course the fear of a damaged reputation will have played its part, but I have seen a lot of shame and a lot of naivety. Especially the transferring of priests with abuse in their genes has, in hindsight, been unbelievably stupid and actually unforgivable. Now we know that the chance of recidivism is so very great that, even with therapy, let along after apologies and confession, it is only a matter of time for the bomb to blow.”
Hindsight is 20/20, they say. No one can change the past. But it can – and must – be a lesson. Lets hope that the lesson is being received.
Following his earlier comments on the latest revelations about past abuse in the Catholic Church, and in light of the impact this has had on Catholics, also in the Netherlands, Bishop Gerard de Korte has written a letter to the faithful of his diocese. But its message is just as pertinent for Catholics in other dioceses and even other countries.
Without wanting to diminish the suffering of the victims – the bishop describes how he has personally been in touch with a number of them – the letter reminds the reader of what is being done today to fight abuse, despite the failures of the past, and asks to remember of the good the Church still offers. It is good to remember, in my opinion, that there is no distinction between ‘the Church’ and the faithful in the pews. They – we – are the Church, and Bishop de Korte’s letter must be read in that light, so that it does not become a bishop’s call to not leave him and his priests, but an invitation to work together as God’s Church in the world.
“Brothers and sisters,
In the past weeks our Church has frequently been negatively in the news. There was the news about sexual abuse of minors in the United States. And on the highest level of our Church our good pope is accused of not having responded adequately to signs of abuse.
Altogether, the recent news reports are for many cause for pain and sadness. Several victims of sexual abuse who have I have spoken with in the past, have contacted me and told me that their pain is resurfacing because of the news. More than a few faithful in the parish are experiencing sadness with so many negative reports.
In recent history, religious, priests and bishops have been unfaithful to their vocation. They have committed crimes and seriously damaged the lives of people. Their behaviour did not bring people to God, but, in many cases, tested or even extinguished the faith in the hearts of people. This is a reason for deep shame.
In the Netherlands, the sexual abuse of minors was revealed in 2010. From that moment on, the Dutch bishops have been intensively involved in ding justice to the victims of the abuse. They have done their utmost, and will continue to do so, to purify and renew the Church.
All the recommendations of the Deetman commission, which investigated the sexual abuse of minors in our Church, have been followed. A great number of measures have been taken recognise victims and, at the same time, to prevent new victims being made. Of course, constant vigilance is needed, but I am strongly convinced that our Church in the Netherlands is a safer place than it was in the past, especially also for children and young people.
In these days of crisis our bond with the Church is being tested. May I ask you, especially now that it is difficult, to remain faithful? Now that we are going through an exceptionally difficult time for the Church, no one can be missed.
There are countless good things happening in the faith communities of our parishes. Things that can give us courage and hope. I think of celebrating God’s love together, as made visible in Jesus Christ. I’ll also mention all kinds of activities in the fields of communicating the faith and catechesis. And in the last place I gladly emphasise all sorts of charity and other forms of service, within and without the parishes. I think not only of the care for the elderly and the lonely, but also of efforts towards peace, justice and the maintenance of God’s creation.
The Church of our country and most especially of our own Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch only has a future if many take the faith of their baptism seriously.
In these dark days, let us stay close to Christ and His Gospel, also by being close to all who are struggling. In these times we need Catholics who, despite everything, live their faith joyfully.
Thank you to all the faithful, priests, deacons, pastoral workers and all other baptised who form their faith in loyal perseverance.
Let us, inspired by the Holy Spirit, make our friendship with Christ visible in today’s world.
One third of known abuse cases have been settled out of court and in secret, an investigation by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reveals. Church authorities, mostly religious congregations, paid out 10.6 million euros in compensation for these 342 cases*.
The foundation the commission advised to be established has now processed 703 cases of sexual abuse by clergy and other representatives of the Church, while some 200 are still awaiting completion. 21.3 million euros in compensation have been paid in acknowledgement of these cases.
Settlement agreements which were agreed upon through a mediator, some 210 in total, included the commitment for both parties not to express themselves negatively about each other where it concerns the settlement or the abuse in question. These settlements were used by a handful of religious congregations which ran schools and boarding schools, among them the Salesians. While mediation and settlements, in addition or instead of the standard channels of meeting, conversation, acknowledgement and financial compensation, have always been options, the secrecy clause is problematic.
When it comes to how the Church deals with abuse, secrecy should be avoided at all cost. In order to resolve the crisis and acknowledge the sins committed and damage done to the victims, the first step must always be transparancy. Secret settlements are hardly the way to do it.
However, we must also wonder how these came about? Where they suggested by the congregations in question, or was there a wish from the victims to remain anonymous and avoid possible unwanted media attention? If there is a wish for the latter, that must certainly be acknowledged. The victims should have the first say in how their case is handled. So, secret settlements are not automatically a bad thing. As it seems now, however, from comments from the mediators themselves, the secrecy clause was included on the request of the religious congregations themselves, which was not their decision to make.
Were secret settlements out of court the smart thing to do? Probably not, even if there was a wish from the victims to do it like this (which, it seems now, there generally was not). It was not up to the congregations to choose secrecy. When faced with a choice between secrecy and transparency, the first and immediate choice must always be the latter.
Many victims signed the agreement, with the secrecy clause embedded within it, as the end result of professional mediation between them and the congregations in question. Did they all read it carefully? Perhaps not. But their signature did make the agreement legally binding, making it exceedingly difficult for them to now voice their disagreements.
As before, the fear for a tarnished reputation seems to have played its part… But that never leads to a solution, to a future where we can say that sexual abuse by clergy, and it effects in too many innocent victims, lies in the past. The Church can be, and in many ways already is, an example for other parts of society, but not when secrecy remains a part of her actions.
In a press release issued today, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands addressed this issue, once more underlining that mediation and settlement have been options from the beginning (and again, these are not problematic, but secrecy is):
“Complaints against deceased and/or about lapsed cases of sexual abuse could be lodged with the Meldpunt Seksueel Misbruik RKK until 1 May 2015. Claimants could choose to have their case processed by the complaints commissions and speak openly, in the presence of Church representatives, about the sexual abuse they suffered and the consequences of it in their lives. After the claim is deemed justified, victims can request compensation from the compensation commission. In the course of the process victims can also choose an alternative, such as mediation or a settlement.
The Meldpunt Seksueel Misbruik, which falls under the independent Stichting Beheer & Toezicht for cases of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, will report on the claims processed and the compensations awarded, as well as mediations and settlements, in the annual report over 2015. This report will be completed in the first week of April and will be published on the website of the Meldpunt. The Meldpunt will, as it has done in previous years, communicatie openly and transparently.
The Meldpunt takes the aspect of confidentiality into accounty. In a report from April 2014 the board of Beheer & Toezicht explains why confidentiality in all cases is so important: it lowers the threshold for victims, accused and Church authorities; plausibility is of primary importance in processing the case; the defendants are deceased in most cases and can no longer defend themselves.
The complaints commissions expects that all cases will be completed by 1 September 2016, as the Meldpunt Seksueel Misbruik RKK reported in a press relase of 30 November 2015.”
*The accuracy of these numbers as presented by NRC have been called into question. If the actual number of settlements with a secrecy of clause is smaller than suggested, that can only be good, but it does not remove the need for openness that I emphasise above. Again, settlements out of court and mediation are no need for concern, and the advice of the Deetman Commission specifically acknowledges and supports it (contrary to what the authors of the NRC claim, and which I shared in an earlier version of this blog post). Imposed secrecy by anyone else than the victims is a problem, however.
Even without digging into the details, I can comfortably say that 2013 has been the strangest, most unexpected, most challenging and most rollercoaster-like year in recent memory. From the historical retirement of Pope Benedict XVI to the long-awaited ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops, a Catholic blogger with his eye on current Church events had plenty of things to write about. A look back on the past twelve months.
“Dear fathers, dear mothers, let God be great amid your family, so that your children can grow up in the security of His love.”
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, shortly after his consecration as Bishop of Regensburg, 26 January 2013
“…well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant…”
Pope Benedict XVI, 11 February 2013
The year really started on 11 February, with the shock announcement of Pope Benedict XVI that he would retire by the month’s end. So much of what would characterise the rest of 2013 has its roots in that decision and announcement. With it we started to wrap up a pontificate, with a lot of final things. The faithful were certainly loath to see Papa Benedetto go, as both his final generalaudiences and his last Angelus show. And then that last farewell came, for me the one moment which stands out in this year.
Pope Francis, first words to the world after his election, 13 March
In March a new chapter was opened. Whereas Pope Benedict XVI had educated us about the faith, Pope Francis would show us how to put it into practice. The tone was set from that first shy “good evening”. But before all that took place, we had to wait while the cardinal electors met and sketched a profile of the new pontiff. As the conclave opened, all eyes were on a humble chimney, about as humble as the Pope it announced after five ballots.
“Christ is everything for me, the centre of my life, from Baptism to death. He is the personification of God, showing us how to live in intimate union with God, how to literally embody that great and incomprehensible God. Or, as the Gospel of John tells us, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father”. When you become the Body of Christ together, you experience in a fundamental way that you belong together and support one another.”
Words from Bishop Tiny Muskens, quoted by Bishop Liesen in the eulogy for the late bishop of Breda.
A month of settling into the new papacy and all the impressions that brings. Things returned to normal, and an overview of April is basically a list of events, with no major overarching themes.
“I am very thankful that you have taken the effort to send me some words of support and solidarity after the protest action of the Femen group. Your words have been very comforting for me.”
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, in a letter sent to those who wrote to him in support after the attack on him by leftwing protesters in April
A quiet month which nonetheless closed the the events of the first few months, as the Pope emeritus came home (pictured). In other events, we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord, Michael Voris commented on the state of the Church in the Netherlands, the bishops of Belgium offered a status report of the sexual abuse crisis in their country, Bishop de Korte responded to last month’s professors’ manifesto, The Pope did not perform an exorcism, nine new priests were to be ordained, and Archbishop Léonard sent a gracious letter to all those who supported him after the Femen attack.
“He was a bishop with a vision, not conservative in the sense that he wanted to return to the time before the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, with heart and soul he wanted to be a bishop who stood in and for that council and wanted to put it into practice.”
Bishop Jan Hendriks remembers Bishop Jo Gijsen, who passed away on 24 June
I also made the first Dutch translation (as far as I was able to find) of Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical In Hac Tanta, on St. Boniface, and I wrote about the issue of same-sex marriage from the viewpoints of two seeming opposites.
“It is impossible to serve God without going to the human brother, met on the path of our lives. But it is also impossible to substantially love the neighbor without understanding that this is the Son of God himself who first became the neighbour of every man.”
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, in the homily at the consecration of Bishop Jean-Pierre Delville of Liège, 14 July
“As John took Mary into his home, you took Bishop Bluyssen into your home. There is of course a great difference between giving someone a space to live and giving someone a home. You have done the latter.”
Bishop Antoon Hurkmans to the sisters of the Mariënburg monastery, 13 August
“I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.”
“The Eucharist (which refers to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ) is the most important sacrament, in which the faithful celebrate their unity with God and each other.”
Wim Cardinal Eijk, responding to liturgical abuse by an overly creative priest, 7 October
In this very busy month, the Council of Cardinals got to work, and the first fruits of Pope Francis’ reforms became visible in the Synod of Bishops, which sent a questionnaire to the world’s Catholics at the end of the month. Rumours surfaced that the Dutch bishops would be going on their ad limina visit soon, rumours which would soon be confirmed. One of the most notable efforts to spring up in relation to this was the so-called Pauspetitie. Back home, Cardinal Eijk (pictured) made a stand against excessive liturgical abuse, which revealed how rotten some parts of the Church are. Later that month, the cardinal also wrote a letter to the faithful about church closings. In other news, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ Msgr. Paul Tighe spoke at the CNMC in Boston about the Holy See’s work in social media, and a solution was found for the Limburg situation. The Holy See announced a consistory for February, in which Pope Francis will be creating his first class of cardinals.
With the help of Fr. Roderick’s more faithful translation of last month’s papal interview, I drafted an improved English translation. All this before later developments would seriously invalidate the level of accuracy, as the interviewer admitted to not having recorded the interview or taking notes.
“Due to the aforementioned discrepancies, the draft text is to be withdrawn and revised, so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned which are in opposition to Church teaching. Because the text has raised questions not only in Germany, but in many parts of the world as well, and has led to uncertainties in a delicate pastoral issue, I felt obliged to inform Pope Francis about it.”
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, in a letter to the bishops of Germany, 11 November
A bit a weird month, mostly devoted to looking ahead to the upcoming ad limina, but there were also some other topics which needed discussion or correction.
First of all, there was good news as we learned that annual television spectacle The Passionwould be visiting my home town in 2014. The Dutch bishops decided on the fastest and most efficient means to deal with the Synod of Bishops’ questionnaire. On 19 November, Bishop Joseph Lescrauwaet passed away. Most attention internationally, however, was for Archbishop Müller’s letter to the German bishops, informing them that their pastoral initiative on marriage and the sacraments needed revising. In Germany, things remained rebellious. On the ad limina visit, Bishop de Korte looked ahead, and I took a closer look at the general report that the bishops published.
“Finally, the Pope also asked us a sort of question of conscience. Where do you yourself, as bishops, find the strength, your hope and joy amid all the concerns and problems? The Gospel must always be visible as the Good News of forgiveness, salvation and redemption. He urged us to always quench our thirst from that and communicate it to others. The Church, the Pope indicated, grows from an authentically experienced faith and through honest attraction. She is being sent to awaken and plant faith, hope and love in people.”
Bishop Jos Punt, looking back on the ad limina visit, 14 December
Jozéf Cardinal Glemp, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, passed away on 23 January, aged 83
Giovanni Cardinal Cheli, Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano, passed away on 8 February, aged 94
Julien Cardinal Ries, Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia, passed away on 23 February, aged 92
Jean Cardinal Honoré, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Salute a Primavalle, passed away on 28 February, aged 92
Bishop Bernard Rieger, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, passed away on 10 April, aged 90
Lorenzo Cardinal Antonetti, Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Agnese in Agone, passed away on 10 April, aged 90
Bishop Reinard Lettmann, bishop emeritus of Münster, passed away on 16 April, aged 80
Bishop Martinus Petrus Maria Muskens, bishop emeritus of Breda, passed away on 16 April, aged 77
Stanislaw Cardinal Nagy, Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria della Scala, passed away on 5 June, aged 91
Bishop Franz Xaver Eder, bishop emeritus of Passau, passed away on 20 June, aged 87
Bishop Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen, bishop emeritus of Reykjavík, passed away on 24 June, aged 80
Simon Ignatius Cardinal Pimenta, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria «Regina Mundi» a Torre Spaccata, passed away on 19 July, aged 93
Ersilio Cardinal Tonini, Cardinal-Priest of Santissimo Redentore a Valmelaina, passed away on 28 July, aged 99
Archbishop Ludwig Averkamp, archbishop emeritus of Hamburg, passed away on 29 July, aged 86
Bishop Johannes Willem Maria Bluyssen, bishop emeritus of ‘s Hertogenbosch, passed away on 8 August, aged 87
Medardo Joseph Cardinal Mazombwe, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Emerenziana a Tor Fiorenza, passed away on 29 August, aged 81
Bishop Ernst Gutting, auxiliary bishop emeritus Speyer, passed away on 27 September, aged 94
Bishop Georg Weinhold, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Dresden-Meiβen, passed away on 10 October, aged 78
Domenica Cardinal Bartolucci, Cardinal-Deacon of Santissimi Nomi di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata, passed away on 11 November, aged 96
Bishop Joseph Frans Lescrauwaet, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Haarlem, passed away on 19 November, aged 90
Bishop Max Georg von Twickel, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Münster, passed away on 28 November, aged 87
Ricardo María Cardinal Carles Gordó, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Marie Consolatrice al Tiburtino, passed away on 17 December, aged 86
New appointments and consecrations in the dioceses of northwestern Europe:
Bishop Heiner Koch, auxiliary bishop of Köln, was appointed as bishop of Dresden-Meiβen on 18 January and installed on 18 March
Fr. Rudolf Voderholzer was consecrated as bishop of Regensburg on 26 January
Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville was appointed as bishop of Liège on 31 May and consecrated on 14 July.
Bishop Aloys Jousten retired as bishop of Liège on 31 May
Fr. Michael Gerber was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Freisgau on 12 June and consecrated on 8 September
Fr. Ansgar Puff was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Köln on 14 June and consecrated on 21 September
Fr. Johannes Wübbe was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Osnabrück on 18 June and consecrated on 1 September
Bishop Werner Radspieler retired as auxiliary bishop of Bamberg on 9 September
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch retired as archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau on 17 September
Archbishop Nikola Eterovic was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Germany on 21 September; Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset retired as such on the same day
Bishop Rainer Klug retired as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau on 21 November
In the past year, my blog enjoyed 113,702 visits, some 26,000 more than in 2012. The retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, the following conclave and the election of Pope Francis, the Scalfari interview and the corrected English translation I provided, the letter of Archbishop Müller to the German bishops and the upcoming election of the successor of Cardinal Meisner, Evangelii Gaudium and Cardinal Eijk’s sanction against the Dominican priest who was excessively creative are among the topics and events that drew most readers. A good year. Much gratitude and encouragement to continue merrily onwards into 2014.
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.
It’s been quite the year for the Church in the world, in the Netherlands and here on the blog. In this post, I want to look back briefly on what has transpired. What happened before will, in many cases, have its effect on what will happen in the coming year.
The variety of events has been great, but if we had to characterise 2012, we can of course list the major stories: the two consistories for the creation of new cardinals, the ongoing abuse crisis and the efforts in the Netherlands and Rome to deal with it, the Synod of Bishops, the start of the Year of Faith, the retirements, appointments and deaths, the local stories in my neck of the woods and the (mis)representation of the Church in the wider world. These can all characterise the year for the Catholic Church. But since there are as many interpretations as there are readers, I’ll limit myself to presenting the major stories on my blog per month.
For this blog, it has been a good year. With 87,017 views it has been the best year yet, and I am happy to note that I have been able to provide stories, opinions and translations that have been picked up well by other bloggers and media. The pope’s letter to the German bishops on the new translation of the Roman missal, for which I was able to create an English working translation; the Dutch translation of the Christmas address to the Curia; a German interview with Archbishop Müller and my list of surviving Vatican II Council Fathers are examples of this. Both local and international media picked these up, resulting in increased interest for my blog. For that, thank you.
But now, let’s once more go over 2012 and look back on what happened in that year:
About a year ago, as the extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church over the past sixty years or so became clear, there were many voices calling for the Church, in the persons of the bishops, to publicly apologise for the crimes committed. For even though many of the abuse cases happened in the past, the current bishops continue in the responsible role of their predecessors. On multiple occasions, the bishops did so, publicly and in private meetings with victims. It was also hoped that the Catholic response to the crisis would be an example to other parts of society, because it was already clear that sexual abuse is not an exclusively Catholic problem. On the contrary.
At the same time that the Deetman Commission was investigating the Church, another commission, headed by former attorney general Rieke Samson, was doing the same for children who were entrusted to the care of the state. This commission recently published its conclusions, and the numbers were even more staggering than the ones revealed by the Deetman Commission.
In the case of the Catholic cases, there were debates in parliament, and calls from politicians that the Church needed to take responsibility. Rightly so.
But now the ball is in the state’s court. And today we find that that state has no intention of apologising. They have sympathy for the victims, Secretary of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten said today, but that, it seems, is as far as it goes.
Taking responsibility and taking care of the victims, not to mention punishing the perpetrators, is apparently not something that the state, represented by parliament, considers applicable to itself. When it happened in the Church, calls for resignations and criminal trials were called for. Now that the state carries the same level of responsibility for what happened in state-owned shelters and orphanages as the bishops did for the sexual abuse in the Church, none of that applies. Even public apologies are too much to ask for.
In fact, the problem may only be getting bigger in the immediate future.
After a plenary debate in Parliament yesterday, Justice secretary Ivo Opstelten will be asking the Church to look into what happened to young women and girls in the care of the Church. This after the investigation of the Deetman commission revealed the majority of abuse victims to have been male, Katholiek Nieuwsblad reports. Physical and psychological violence should now also be investigated, as well as the issue of babies put up for adoption on the insistence of Church workers.
Secretary Opstelten is said to be planning to ask Mr. Wim Deetman to also look into these new topics, which were not part of the initial investigation, as it focussed exclusively on sexual abuse of minors. Archbishop Eijk, in a meeting with Parliament members two weeks ago, said that bishops and religious superiros had spoken about including physical and psychological violence in the assignment given to the Deetman commission, but decided against it because of the difficulty of defining violence.
The Deetman commission itself, per its final report, is hesitant about the usefulness of such an investigation, and has emphasised the importance of investigating such forms of abuse, together with sexual abuse, child pornography, child prostitution and people trafficking as a social problem. The Samson commission is investigating the plight of children placed under the care of the government between 1973 and today, and has received 600 claims already. Mr. Deetman suggested awaiting the result of that investigation.
I tend to agree with Deetman’s suggestion. Why have two investigations into roughly the same issue, and why take a small sampling of society to get a big picture? After all, physical abuse took place in our society, not just the Church. Solving the problem in the Church does not solve it in schools, clubs and families. We must not bury our heads and the sand and pretend society as a whole knows no problems, that it is only the Church which does things wrong. Look at the whole picture, not just one or two details. By all means, the Church must look hard at her recent past and do what can be done to set things straight, but she by no means the only one who must do so.