For the bishops, a more active role

In a letter to the Committee for Safety and Justice, the Dutch bishops have responded to the points of critique that the Deetman Comittee identified in their report of last September. Apart from emphasising their involvement in the various ways that abuse claims are being processed, they also say that they want clarity about the possibility that the majority of these cases will receive a verdict in the coming year. The bishops also state their intention that they will now be actively involved in the institution which actually deals with the claims. Another important point they and the Conference of Dutch Religious recognise and want to fulfill is the implementation of the human tone in the meetings with victims and the processing of their claims. That is something that victims, but others as well, have long desired. It is not enough to strictly focus on the procedures and the rules, but compassion and regret also have a real and functional role in this entire process of dealing with a very black past.

In recent months, there have been complaints that the process is slow and sometimes even stalls completely. Superiors of religious orders and functionaries of the Conference of Dutch Religious have been especially implicated in these cases. At the same time, now that most of the furore has died down, there is a real risk that the efforts of the Church in the Netherlands to deal with the abuse crisis becomes invisible. And some would conclude that that means that nothing is happening. A more active role of the bishops and religious would then have the added benefit of negating this invisibility, although, it must be said, that can never be the main goal. As the bishops emphasise, the victims are always the reason and heart of any effort that is being undertaken.

One year since Deetman – the first report

Yesterday saw the publication of the first report on how the recommendations to deal with the sexual abuse crisis in the Church in the Netherlands, as drafted by Mr . Wim Deetman and his committee, have been implemented. This report is the first in a series that will regular track these implementations and offer corrective measures if necessary.

As the report, at 80 pages, is lengthy, I have not yet been able to do anything but skim through it. But since there are several interesting subjects for blog posts to draft from it, I didn’t want to wait too long with writing about it. First u, is an overview of the size of the problem.

Every diocese has been individually requested to present an overview of how many claims they have received and how far along the process of handling them has advanced. The dioceses have als been tasked with answering a questionnaire on such subjects as how sexuality and celibacy are handled in the seminaries for priests, deacons and pastoral workers, how newly ordained priests receive further training, if and how claims are treated outside the standard procedures, the contacts between victims and representatives of the dioceses, including the bishops, how diocesan websites inform and redirect,  and how last year’s final report has been published and made known within the dioceses.

  • The Archdiocese of Utrecht has received 51 claims since May of 2010. Of these, 24 have resulted in a verdict from the complaints committee, and 1 one of these also to a verdict from the compensation committee. There are also several claims which have not yet advanced beyond the announcement that a  claim will be made in the future.
  • The Diocese of Breda has received 16 claims, or announcements of claims, since June of 2010. 7 of these are true claims, and 2 have received a verdict from the complaints committee.
  • The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden received 7 claims since June of 2010. One of these was lodged twice. One has advanced beyond the reception of the claim.
  • The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam received 22 claims since March of 2010.Three have reached a verdict from the complaints committee and one has received financial compensation. Another claim is currently under investigation and may possibly receive financial compensation. The diocese also mentions that in the case that has received compensation, the abuser himself replied to the claim of a victim.
  • The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch received 34 complaints since May of 2010. 26 have been handled by the complaints committee, and in case the victim appealed the verdict. In three cases, the abuser himself replied to the victim’s claim.
  • The Diocese of Roermond has received 22 claims of which 15 have advanced to a verdict from the complaints committee, and a further four from the compensation committee.
  • The Diocese of Rotterdam, lastly, lists 36 claims, of which 16 pertain to other dioceses or religious orders. Six claims have been judged justified and two of these received financial compensation.

The reasons who a fairly low number of claims have led to verdicts or compensation are myriad. Firstly, the processes involved are slow. Secondly, not all victims may have desired anything but recognition of what has been done to them. And then there is also the sad fact that not all claims are justified.

In total, the Dutch dioceses have received 188 claims of sexual abuse by priests or other workers in the Church, many of whom are no longer alive. The religious orders have also received claims, but that’s a topic for another blog posts.

A sad case – press statements about the Heel affair

Various other news sources have already reported about the conclusion from an investigation into a series of unexplained deaths of young boys at a Catholic institute (pictured) for mentally handicapped boys in the 1950s. It is a story of people not taking responsibility, both in the institute, the Diocese of Roermond and the Labour Inspection office of the government. The guilty party has been identified as one Brother Andreas, now deceased, who was not qualified to treat the boys in question, but the medical doctor and rector of the institute, which was run by the Brothers of Charity, also must be considered (partly) responsible. The same may also go for several diocesan officials, who ordered a limited investigation, but decided not to do anything with the results.

Following the extensive investigation into sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, conducted by the Deetman Committee, the Public Prosecutor started an investigation into what happened all those years ago. No one involved, alive or not, can be legally prosecuted because of the passage of time.

For the sake of completeness, and for the use of anyone interested, here follows the English translation of the press release of the Diocese of Roermond concerning this matter:

The Diocese of Roermond has taken notice of the results of the Public Prosecutor’s criminal investigation concerning the St. Joseph’s Institute in Heel in the 1950s, released today (Thursday 28 June). The report’s conclusion are considered as shocking.

The diocese finds it inexplicable that the diocese made no report to the authorities and regrets that the investigation did not clarify the motives. Nevertheless, the fact that all means were used to reach a balanced perception of the events at the time is laudable.

The diocese especially wishes to pay attention to the suffering of the victims and the sorrows of their relatives.

The Conference of Dutch Religious released a more extensive, if broadly similar press statement, adding that no further investigation will be undertaken into the actions (or lack thereof) of the medical doctor and others involved. In a way that’s understandable, since none of those people are alive today, but I can’t help thinking that this Brother Andreas is presented as a scapegoat. But consider his membership of the Brothers of Charity and his function with the institute, there are superiors who must share in the responsibility.

Photo credit: ANP

The investigation, part 2

Following concerns from politicians that the investigation into sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Catholic Church was somehow incomplete, the Deetman Committee is gearing up for the sequel to last year’s report, which revealed, among other things, that the victims of abuse that occurred between 1945 and today were mainly male. Since that somehow leads to the conclusion that women were underrepresented in the conclusions of the Committee, they will now be focussing on the physical and psychological, as well as sexual, abuse that women and girls suffered from caregivers in Catholic boarding schools, orphanages and other institutions.

Like the previous investigation, this one will be mainly scientific, intended to give a general impression of the problem, both within the Church and society as a whole. Preliminary work will be undertaken over the next few weeks, and the intention voiced by Mr. Deetman is to have the investigation completed before the end of autumn. Female victims of abuse can relay information via until 1 July. The Meldpunt Misbruik RKK continues handling official complaints and compensation as well, while victims’ organisation KLOKK facilitates contacts between victims.

In the course of June, the proposed means of investigation will be published at

“Recognition, reparation, compensation, care and aftercare” – improvements in helping the victims

In a five-page letter to Justice Secretary Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) have once again underlined their firm intention of providing recognition, reparation, compensation, care and aftercare for the victims of sexual abuse within the Church.

The letter, signed by Cardinal Willem Eijk for the bishops and Brother Cees van Dam for the KNR, also gives an overview of what has been done, is being done and will be done to further implement the recommendations of the Deetman committee, as published in December of last year. Among the improvements that the bishops and the KNR intend to implement is an increased level of monitoring how the aforementioned measures are being executed. Mr. Deetman and the members of his committee will take care of annual evaluation, and the bishops and the KNR will do the same. A first such report will be presented on May 15th.

The letter then lists four important developments since the last time parliament heard, among others, then-Archbishop Eijk. These are:

  1. The creation of a ‘contact group’, chaired by Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam, which works in addition to personal meetings of bishops and superiors with victims and victim groups, and will serve as a sort of safety net for victims when progress in their case should stagnate. The contact group has spoken with victim group KLOKK on the first of March, and has planned a subsequent meeting on 5 April.
  2. The Aid Platform is discussing further optimalisation of aid to the victims with KLOKK and Slachtofferhulp Nederland.
  3. A uniform code of conduct for the entire Church province is in the works, to further unify the previously fragmented management structures of the various dioceses and religious orders.
  4. All future priests, deacons, pastoral workers and others with a mission from a bishop, as well as certain religious men and women who work in pastoral care are now required to present a certificate of good conduct. This has long been the case for people who work in education, for example.

The letter is rather silent about the recent castration issue, but that is only logical. Mr. Deetman will be heard by parliament tomorrow about that very issue.

A final important issue that the letter addresses is the statute of limitations. Following a question from Secretary Opstelten, the bishops and the KNR write that that has been invoked in one case, a case that yet awaits a verdict from a judge. Only in civil procedures that aim for financial compensation outside the means that have been provided by the Church, can the statute be theoretically invoked. In my opinion, it would be better if it were never invoked, not least because that is exactly what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith generally does in these cases, as that congregation’s promoter of justice, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, revealed earlier.

Lastly, the letter comes with a few statistics, which show how much progress still needs to be made before the current claims and complaints have been processed. 2,364 reports and 919 complaints have been received over the course of 2010, 2011 and the first months of 2012. Of the 257 complaints processed, 157 have been declared justified, 57 unfounded,  have been settled amicably, and 40 have been retracted or deemed inadmissible. Since the middle of January, 86 requests for financial compensation have been received; a verdict has been reached in seven of these.

I am sure that many will find fault with some of the details of the letter and the things described in it, but in my opinion, it is a good indication of exactly what has been done in recent months, often behind the scenes and in private. And that is admirable. There is always room for progress, and the letter allows for that. It looks beyond the current situation and take the first steps to prevent something like this ever again.

Another horrible page

Disconcerting reports appeared in the media today about the boys’ boarding school Harreveld. Here, in the 50s of the last century, a student, possibly even more, is said to have been castrated.

Should these reports, as they now appear in the media, indeed be truthful this concerns a serious situation which is strongly condemned and regretted by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. The willingness to cooperate with finding out the truth is hereby expressed.

A short, almost clinical, message from the Dutch bishops regarding the shocking report that came out yesterday. To combat alleged ‘homosexual tendencies’  a pupil at the Harreveld boarding school was castrated, so the story goes. The exact details are hard to come by, but what has become clear by now is that the events were not widely known, and that the Deetman committee, who did come across the allegations last year, found little basis for a continued investigation. Whether that means that the date was sparse, or that it didn’t further the scientific investigation conducted by said committee remains to be seen.

And that’s always the crux, right? Who knew what, and why did they decide to keep things hidden from public knowledge? Contrary to public opinion, things are obviously not always kept secret with malignant intent. There may be good reasons for it. But I don’t know if that was the case here.

In the media and in politics people are elbowing each other out of the way to attack the Church over this, to call for parliament enquiries into the matter, even to invalidate and redo the entire Deetman investigation. While certainly understandable considering the horror that took place, it must also be said that such calls are often done in the heat of the moment.

While I don’t want to offer an excuse for the castration of boys or young men, for whatever reason (except probably criminal pedophilia), it must be said that it is no secret that such medical procedures, as they undoubtedly are to be considered as, took place in the past to combat all kinds of sexual ‘conditions’, be it ‘hypersexuality’, pedophilia or, indeed, homosexuality. It’s a brutal measure that may be compared to to performing lobotomies on people with mental or psychological disorders. We know now that it does far more harm than good, and certainly doesn’t ‘cure’ the patient.

And what now? We, the Church and all faithful, will be attacked over this, and I think it’s something we must bear for now, painful and frustrating as it is. While I don’t think I, or any other Catholic, can be held responsible for the behaviour of another, the fact that it was allowed to took place under Catholic auspices means that the Church will be scrutinised and held accountable. And we are the Church…

Regarding other abuses, sexual or otherwise, the Catholic Church was, and is, not the only place where it happens. That’s true today and in the past. That is fact that must be remembered, but it does not wipe our slate clean. “The dirt in someone else’s street doesn’t make ours any cleaner,” to quote my bishop. Perhaps the process that we are going through now as Catholics may some day be an example to all of society. The issue of how we treat our sexuality today needs a different answer., and I am convinced that the faith that the Church safeguards and teaches has that answer.

The understandable emotional reactions that will be directed our way will sometime be hard to bear. In today’s extremely secular society, anything regarding the Church is considered with mild suspicion at least, with outright and unjust anger and violence at the worst. Let us, faithful and priests, unite under the Cross and ask God to forgive those who committed the abuse, those who hid the facts and those who now do the wrong things in handling the consequences. Let’s pray for the strength and will to do the utmost for the victims, that justice and compensation, as far as it is possible, be done. Lastly, let’s pray that we can help those in and outside the Church who are now further alienated through the past deeds of a few. And then, once we have asked God for His divine help, let’s get out there an do those things we prayed for!

The archbishop in parliament

In an unprecedented hearing yesterday, Archbishop Wim Eijk spoke to politicians about the abuse crisis and the work that is being done by the Church in the wake of the Deetman report. It seems that even now, there are things we can learn, most specifically from Belgium: there new raids of diocesan offices took place, whereas over here the Church seems to try and work with the state to find solutions. Or the state with the Church, for that matter.

Yesterday’s hearing came after a letter from Justice secretary Ivo Opstelten, which explained that abusers whose crime fall under the state of limitations, since they took place decades ago, can not now be prosecuted after all. Which, as victims’ organisations pointed out, does not mean the Church can’t take steps against these people. The Church, after all, has a readily waived statute of limitations for these crimes.

The Church remains committed to eradicating sexual abuse “root and branch”, the archbishop said. But, it must be acknowledged, she is still finding its feet in these matters. After many years of trying to resolve the situation internally, the Church in the Netherlands and all over the world is learning to work publicly and with other institutions. The Vatican seems to be starting to coordinate and direct how individual bishops’ conferences and religious congregations work for and with victims and against sexual abuse, for example.

Back home, the archbishop revealed that a special contact group between bishops and victims will be created to further communication between the two. We’ve seen the first steps in Archbishop Eijk’s meeting with victims on Sunday. An important role in this group will be played by Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende (right), who is a good choice for such sensitive and pastoral work.

Photo credit: [1] Trouw