Something is very rotten among the Dutch Salesians

I wonder if I should even be surprised anymore… A man plays down the seriousness of sexual relations between an adult and a child, and is subsequently arrested for possessing child pornography. And then it becomes clear that this is his second arrest in five years for the same crime; he just didn’t think it necessary to inform anyone of his first arrest (unless his superiors knew things we didn’t, and that would no longer surprise me either).

The man is the former delegate for the Dutch Salesians Herman Spronck. I say former, because he kept the honour to himself and stepped down (notice it took him a few months of lying to reach that decision). His superior, Fr. Jos Claes of the Salesian province of Flanders and the Netherlands, immediately sent his case on to Rome, where I hope and assume, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and not the Salesian order, will take a good hard look at it.

A terse notice on the website of the Dutch Salesians says as much:

This afternoon we were informed that Fr. H. S. is accused of possessing child pornography, something for which he had been accused before.

We immediately informed our superiors in Rome about this.

This painful news is a surprise to the Salesians. We were completely unaware of this.

The measures surrounding his work, which had been previously published, remain in effect.

We hope that Dutch Justice will do continue to do its work. We Salesians wish to cooperate fully.

The amount of child pornography in Spronck’s possession may have been quite small, but in combination with the lies and the fact that this man had been a contact in discussions between victims of sexual abuse and Church authorities makes it truly despicable. Victims had placed their trust in Spronck, hoping that he would be able to help them get compensated for the pain inflicted upon them. And then he is basically just as bad as the people who abused them.

I also hope that this triggers all religious orders and congregations to stop being naive and unaware of what goes on within their own ranks. I think it’s now necessary to run background checks on every person they employ. This destroys all the goodwill the orders and the Church as a whole gains through their good works. One liar and one order which has little idea of what its member do or did.

It’s raining statements

In a seeming attempt to put right what went wrong, the Salesians in the Netherlands and abroad are trying to be as open as possible about the process of dealing with the membership of a Dutch Salesian of a pedophilia group and the statements of delegate Fr. Herman Spronck, who came out in favour of pedophilia and defended Fr. van B.’s work for the group ‘Martijn’. Yesterday, two more press releases were published, the first from the Salesian Congregation in Rome, titled Paedophilia: Incompatible with the principles and values of Salesian tradition. The heart of that statement is the following paragraph:

“Being a member of such an association is absolutely incompatible with the principles and values of Salesian tradition. Therefore we strongly disapprove of this fact and we distance ourselves from this kind of personal behaviour by an individual confrere. We can understand that this news has undoubtedly once again seriously wounded the justified sensitivities of many persons. We can understand their pain and we offer our apologies in the name of the Salesians of Don Bosco.”

But do read the full text.

The second press release concerns Fr. Spronck himself:

In a conversation, Jos Claes, Provincial of the Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Flanders and the Netherlands, has ordered Father Herman Spronck to refrain from giving any interviews or public statements for one year.

Father Herman Spronck has accepted this decision and has promised to keep to it.

Father Herman Spronck acknowledges that his statements represent an incorrect vision and offers his apologies to the many people who felt angered and distraught by the interview.

He disassociates himself from the contents of his interview, which is fully contrary to the teachings of the Church and incompatible with the Christian and Salesian project of education.

Fr. Jos Claes

What was missing in the interview is now finally present in this statement; the fact that, as a Catholic priest, Fr. Spronck made statements that are incompatible with the Christian faith and the teachings of the Church. Better late than never, I would say.

Certain questions and rumours still remain. What, for example, do we make of the claim that Fr. Jos Claes was aware of the membership of Fr. van B. of ‘Martijn’ well before this whole issue broke? I have no sources for that claim apart from rumours being floated here and there. In Rome and the Netherlands, the investigation will continue. I don’t think this is a closed case just yet.

One more time, a press release

I’m getting a bit sick of the whole sordid affair, but for the sake of completeness: one more press release from Salesian Provincial Fr. Jos Claes. Source is the same as in my previous post.

Regarding the most recent revelations from Father van B. and Father Herman Spronck, the Province and the Salesian Congregation completely disassociate themselves from the acts and comments given by both.

Father van B. was officially informed that he has no access to the performance of any pastoral activity whatsoever.

The Provincial of Belgium and the Netherlands, Jos Claes, has suspended Father Herman Spronck from all delegated authority that Father Herman Spronck had regarding the Salesians in the Netherlands.

Compliments to the exceedingly quick response from the responsible authorities. Let’s hope that the committee established will equally soon have a report ready to send on to Rome.

Three press releases from the Salesians

On their website, the Dutch Salesians have released three press statements, two from the hand of Fr. Jos Claes, the order’s provincial for the Netherlands and Flanders, and one from the chairman of Don Bosco Works Netherlands. All regard the membership of one of the Salesian fathers of the pro-pedophilia group ‘Martijn’ as well as the statements made by delegate Fr. Herman Spronck.

Since the interest in the topic is high, judging from my blog’s statistics, I’ll share both press statements in English below.

Press release from the provincial of the Salesian of Don Bosco

Following the news and notification of the comments by Father H. Spronck about Father van B., we distance ourselves completely from the comments by Father H. Spronck.

To our great surprise we were made aware in the past days that Father van B. was a member of the association ‘Martijn’. The membership and visions of such an association are not compatible with our Salesian identity and the educational project of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

We absolutely do not approve of this and we therefore condemn the membership and the opinions of Father van B.

Brussels, 21 May 2011
Jos Claes
Provincial

Press release from the provincial of the Salesian of Don Bosco

Concerning the case of Father van B. the Provincial has established a committee. Starting today, this will be collecting all the information regarding the actions and words of Father van B. which is connected to his condemnable membership of ‘Martijn’.

The committee’s report will be sent to the superiors of the Salesian congregation in Rome.

At this moment the provincial has officially informed Father van B. that he can not undertake any pastoral duty or service anywhere or in whatever way.

Brussels, 23 May 2011
Jos Claes
Provincial

Statement from the Foundation Don Bosco Works Netherlands

On Friday evening the council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands was surprised by the news from RTL 4 about one of the Salesians of Don Bosco and especially the comments which delegate Mr. German Spronck gave via RTL 4.

The council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands would hereby like to inform you that it expressly distances itself from the comments made by Mr. Herman Spronck in this regard. In the meantime, there has been deliberation with Mr. Jos Claes, Provincial.

The council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands now reflects on the situations and will further inform you.

Foundation Don Bosco Works Netherlands
Lex Enklaar, chairman
23 May 2011

Three statements which illustrate the shocking nature of the comments made and the effect upon the Salesians and all who work with them. It is good to see that steps are being taken and that Rome will be involved, like a spokesman of the Dutch bishops said a few days ago.

In the meantime, it must be emphasised that Fr. Spronck and Fr. van B. have not committed any crimes according to the law. However, morally their statements and the membership of a club of pedophiles are very seriously wrong.