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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.

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.

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

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 reactie@onderzoekrk.nl 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 http://onderzoekrk.nl/.

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.

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!

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

Cover of the special Mass booklet created the National Liturgy Council

It is the first year after the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and while a Blessed’s feast day is normally limited to those places where he or she was active (in this case, the city of Rome and the country of Poland), special dispensation has been given for every diocese in the world to organise one celebration in this first year. The Dutch bishops have chosen this weekend, 32 years on the day after Blessed Pope John Paul II called a special Synod on the Church on the Netherlands, for this celebration to take place.

The most high-profile Mass for the Blessed Pope will be the one in the Basilica of Saint Lambert in Hengelo, Archdiocese of Utrecht, which will be televised. Cardinal-designate Wim Eijk is the main celebrant, and most other bishops are to concelebrate.

But in this time, when the clouds of the abuse crisis still hang over us, a potential blemish has appeared. Mr. Frank Oude Geerdink, who was abused by a priest, has called for other victims to gather at the Basilica and stage a ‘silent protest’ in the presence of the bishops. Now, just like previous protests we’ve seen in the past years, this is completely misplaced. Mass is not the place for protest, since it is not primarily about policy or whatever passes between people. In essence, when a protest is staged at a Mass, the chief means by which we receive healing and reconciliation, and which belongs to God, is hijacked to merely make a point. This protest, which has trouble getting of the ground, by the way, is a protest against the lack of response from the bishops to the abuse committed by the Church. Now, the entire premise is wrong (the abuse is not committed by the Church, but by individuals) and the protesters must have missed the Deetman report and the initial reactions to it from the bishops and the religious superiors. While there is still more that needs doing for the victims the premise that the bishops stayed silent simply can not be upheld. Maybe that is the reason why, so far, only six people have signed up to join Mr. Oude Geerdink.

Two hopes, then; that the bishops continue working for the good of all the victims of sexual abuse; and that Sunday’s Mass will not be disrupted. That will simply do not an ounce of good.

Image credit: RKK/Dutch Bishops’ Conference

In the final weeks of last year, at least two prominent Dutch politicians – Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen (a Catholic, pictured)  and SGP party leader Kees van der Staaij (Reformed Protestant) - have suggested that it would be a good thing if one or more Dutch bishops would resign in the wake of the Deetman report. While both men received a certain amount of criticism for a perceived breach of the separation of Church and state, I think it’s more interesting to take these sentiments seriously. Not to say that I agree with them (I don’t), but they are interesting to look into.

We’ve seen it happen in Ireland, where several bishops resigned following conclusions about their conduct in handling abuse cases under their jurisdiction. These things are not unprecedented, but neither are they without context and reason. Although, as the Dutch bishops have confirmed, a bishop inherits a certain responsibility from his predecessor because of the fact that he is a bishop, they, like everyone else, can not be held responsible for the actions of another man. If one bishop mishandled specific cases of abuse, another bishop can’t be legally blamed for it, although he has a moral responsibility as shepherd and prelate of the Church.

A hypothetical resignation of any Dutch bishop, to atone for actions that were or were not taken under another man’s watch, would be meaningless, in my opinion. Other acts of atonement for the Church as a whole, or the diocese of which a bishop is the shepherd, can be far more effective and meaningful.

Simply looking at the numbers, it is unlikely (though of course not impossible) that any of the sitting bishops in the Netherlands will be found guilty of gross misconduct. The vast majority of them were not bishops when the peak of the abuse cases occurred. This is something that the media often seems to forget, that the bishops of the 1960s and 70s are not the same men as today.

A far more important consideration in this matter is that a bishop can be far more effective in working towards a solution if he stays in office. And here we must consider what a bishop is. Unlike what many want us to believe, he is not the CEO of a major company. A CEO may, sometimes even should, resign if stocks fall, production drops and profit plummets. A bishop is a father for the faithful in his diocese. And, to borrow a simile from somewhere else, who has heard of a father severing all contact with his family when some disaster happens? Exactly then it is a father’s duty to stay with his family, protect them, and help them in dealing with whatever horror has afflicted them (and him as well, of course). That is also what Bishop Gerard de Korte said in an interview on 17 December:

“I don’t think the victims are waiting for the resignation of a bishop, but rather that the current bishops act in such a way that they will be helped. What matters now is that we try to stand by the victims and act adequately.”

If a bishop were to resign, we should have a good answer to the question “why?” And then we must ask what good this resignation will bring. In the meantime, we must ask, inspire and pray for our bishops to do what is right, as fathers of the local church.

Photo credit: ANP

With 5,496 views in December, 2011 closed off quite well when it comes to the traffic this blog received. For the third month in a row, it’s been well over 5,000. In the top 10 we find various topics, both positive and negative. Since the month’s been quite a ride, I am actually glad that it’s not all bad news. Let’s take a look:

1: The heart of the report: “What on earth has gone wrong?” 76
2: Approaching the bottom line – looking ahead to a 2012 consistory 73
3:  Het probleem Medjugorje & Communication problems, or avoiding communicating the polar opposite of what we want to say 50
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests & “By popular demand”, Bishop Punt’s excellent homily 47
5: The Dutch Church’s emotional storm 45
6: Homily at the episcopal consecration of Msgr. Jan Hendriks 44
7: Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard 37
8: The mistakes of Father Peijnenburg 34
9: O Adonai! 31
10: The most damning indictment against a Dutch bishop yet 30

Naturally, when we look back at the whole of 2011, the numbers are higher, if a little lower than those for 2010. But that may be explained by the unusual peak of July 2010, which led to some 4,000 more visitors than 2011′s final tally of 59,496. The 2011 top 10 is nicely varied and includes a number of posts from the previous year. Here it is:

1: The Stations of the Cross 592
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 572
3: First EF Mass in Groningen off to a good start 421
4: The weak case of the disobedient priests 406
5: Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 292
6: Under the Roman Sky 273
7: Cardinals according to John Allen 268
8: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 258
9: A real church, “not one of those multifunctional things” 254
10: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 233

In August of last year we welcomed the 100,000th visitor. The number now stands at 123,945. Who knows, maybe we’ll reach 200,000 in this year?

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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The above means that I have the right to be recognised as the author of both the original blog posts, as well as any translations I make. Everyone is free to share my content, but with credit in the form of my name or a link to my blog.

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Over the years, my blog posts have been picked up by various other blogs, websites and media outlets.

A complete list would be prohibitively long, so I'll limit myself to mentioning The Anchoress, Anton de Wit, Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, The Break/SQPN, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Culture, The Catholic Herald, EWTN, Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, Fr. Z's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Katholiek Gezin, Katholiek.nl, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, New Liturgical Movement, NOS, Protect the Pope, Reformatorisch Dagblad, The Remnant, RKS Ariëns, Rorate Caeli, The Spectator, Vatican Insider, Voorhof and Whispers in the Loggia.

All links to, quotations of and use as source material of my blog posts is greatly appreciated. It's what I blog for: to further awareness and knowledge in a positive critical spirit. Credits are equally liked, of course.

Blog posts have also been used as sources for various Wikipedia articles, among them those on Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Archbishop Sergio Utleg and Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki.

Latest translations added:

20 April: [English] Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki - Easter message.

15 April: [English] Bishop Frans Wiertz - Homily on sexual abuse.

4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

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Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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