An end in sight? Taking responsibility for and compensating victims of sexual abuse

In the past five years, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, in the form of her various dioceses and religious congregations, processed a total of 3,656 reports of sexual abuse by clergy and other representatives of the Church, paying out almost 21 million euros in 699 of those cases. The expectation is that the final compensations will be awarded in 2017, which will be the end of the abuse crisis which broke in 2010 and mainly revolved around abuse which took place between 1945 and 1980.

The largest total amounts were paid out by the (Arch)dioceses of Utrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Roermond, as well as the Brothers CMM (which tops the list with 1,885,000 euros paid out in 64 cases).

Of the 3,656 initial reports of sexual abuse, roughly half (1,815) became actual cases (some of the initial claimants either never pressed charges or later withdrew them), and of these, 699 have resulted in a financial compensation in some form (out of 820 requests received – some of these are still to be processed and will receive a compensation in the future). This number does not include the cases which were settled in private between the parties involved, or those that were settled with the help of an independent mediator. In a significant number of cases, victims never requested financial compensation.

The annual report of the Meldpunt for sexual abuse in the Church, from which these statistics come, emphasises that secrecy in these settlements is standard. Several weeks ago, there was some consternation about Church entities requiring victims to remain silent about the settlement and the nature of the abuse they suffered. Evidence about perpetrators which becomes known through settlements can and is being used as supporting evidence in other cases, and the Meldpunt has frequently reminded Church institutions and victims’ groups of the need to inform them of settlements made, for that purpose. The Brothers CMM, the Salesians, the Brothers of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the Brothers FIC and the Brothers of Charity have settled the largest number of reports and cases. This does not indicate any form of secrecy of protection of reputation, unless the secrecy clause was imposed against the victims’ wishes. If that has happened, they were free to settle a case outside the available channels provided by the Church, as some have done. If there were institutions who enforced secrecy, these should have a long hard think about their conduct…

It is clear that the damage done by abusive priests, religious and other Church workers has been great. The Church’s response has been likewise. In many cases the abusers are deceased, so this response must necessarily be given by their current representatives, even when those are innocent themselves. And it has been given willingly in most cases, in a structered and legal way. This approach has sometimes clashed with the inherently emotional nature of the acts and their lifelong effects on the victims. The Church has been accused of being clinical, slow and bureaucratic in dealing with abuse, and perhaps she has sometimes failed in being sufficiently open and pastoral towards victims. But she has taken responsibility, albeit too late in more than a few cases: abuse should never have been denied and hidden in the first place.

The fact remains that in many parts of society this is exactly what continues happening now. The Catholic Church has a reputation of being a haven for abusers, and as painful and wrong as that may be, it is something we must live with for now. The Church has accepted this burden and carries it, with an eye first on the victims and their rights and needs. That is something that other sectors of society could learn from. Sexual abuse of minors has happened and continues to happen, in families, schools, hospitals and other care facilities, sports clubs… Are the victims of that abuse heard? Do those people and institutions also take their responsibility, regardless of their reputation?

The problem of secrecy – whose choice is it?

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.

 

To my donors: Thank you!

Last week I wrote about the possibility (and desireability) of donating to my blog. Today I just want to express my gratitude to those who have chosen to do so. Your contribution goes a long way in keeping this blog afloat, and, like the sharing of my posts on social media, it validates the time and effort I put into it. Seeing your appreciation expressed in such a way is indeed humbling. Thank you!

And of course, future donations will be equally appreciated. I remember all donors in my prayers at Mass.

German bishops on Ad Limina

dbk logoThe German bishops have announced the dates for their Ad Limina visit to Rome, later this month. The five-day pilgrimage to the graves of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as meetings with the Curia and several audiences with the Pope, will take place from 16 to 20 November. The last time the German Bishops’ Conference made an Ad Limina visit was in 2006, almost a  decade ago, almost double the time that should theoretically separate visits.

With 67 members, the Conference is so large that there will be three audiences with Pope Francis, with a final joint meeting on the 20th.

There are four Masses planned, one in each of the Papal Basilicas:

  • Tuesday 17 November, 4pm, in Saint John Lateran
  • Wednesday 18 November, 4pm, in Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls
  • Thursday 19 November, 7:30am, in Saint Mary Major.

The Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, presumably on the 20th. is not open to the faithful because of limited space. The other Masses are open for attendance.

A press conference will be held on the final day, with Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the conference, in the Collegio Teutonico.

While the meetings with the Curia and the audiences with the Pope are private, the texts of the Pope’s addresses will undoubtedly be made public (whether he actually gives them or not – with the Dutch bishops in 2013 he did not give his planned address, after all). Pope Francis will find the German bishops firmly on his side in the refugee crisis, and he is not unfamiliar with some of the bishops – first of all Cardinal Marx, who is a member of the Council of Cardinals advising him about the reforms in the Curia – or their schools of thought. But as the German dioceses are among the world’s richest (and among the greatest financial donors as well), and the German state’s church tax causes unique and sometimes troublesome situations, Pope Francis may also have a thing or two to about income and expenses.

Abuse of trust – in Vatileaks 2, arrests at the Vatican

The spectre that haunted Pope Benedict XVI in the last year of his pontificate once again rears it ugly head. In 2012, under the moniker Vatileaks, sensitive information and documents were leaked by a butler working in the papal household, and recently something similar happened, once again by persons personally selected by the Pope and appointed by him to help clear up the economic affairs of the Holy See.

vallejo baldaThe Vatican gendarmerie arrested Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda (pictured at left) and Ms. Francesco Chaouqui and held them in detention overnight. This morning both arrests were validated but Ms. Chaougui was let go, after having cooperated fully with the authorities, a Holy See press statement said. Msgr. Vallejo remains in detention, Andrea Tornielli says.

Msgr. Vallejo was the secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, of which Ms. Chaouqui was a member. The commission was established in July of 2013, and had an advisory role to the Pope.

In addition, Msgr. Vallejo is also the secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and a member of the Financial Security Committee (he was its highest-ranking official since Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi was transferred to the Congregation for Catholic Education last March). Not the lowest employee in the Vatican, then, with, it can be assumed, high-level access to confidential information related to the reforms of the Vatican Bank and the entire economic apparatus of the Holy See.

chaouquiAlarm bells about the appointment of Francesca Chaouqui (pictured at right)  were rung by Sandro Magister as early as August of 2013, suggesting a link between the first crisis of Vatileaks and the current case, which once again sees the announcement of books purporting to confidential information about the economic reforms and affairs in the Vatican.

The reforms of the Vatican Bank and the entire economic structure of the Holy were one of the first major spear points of Pope Francis’ pontificate. It was clear that much needed to change, and the Vatican Bank had already begun to be investigated and cleaned out under Pope Benedict XVI. The greatest development was the establishment of Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat of the Economy and the announcement of an independent auditor with free ranges to check the books of all departments in the Vatican. The commissions and committees of which Msgr. Vallejo and Ms. Chaouqui were members, with the exception of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs, which was established in 1967, are also part of these efforts.

This may turn out to be a major challenge for Pope Francis. Until now, his reforms seemed pretty straightforward as new dicasteries were established, with new personnel, to do new things. This would clear up a lot of old problems just by calling in new expertise. It now turns out that the new gang is not necessarily much different from the old gang, and the efforts by Pope Francis are not immune from abuse.  Whether the problem lies with the selection process or the personal faults of the appointed parties remains to be seen, but one thing it does show is that the economic reforms are by no means a done deal.

Sister Financia has a request

…and her collection plate is decidedly empty…

m02_collecte_schaalImage credit: Collecte schaal, Kees de Hond (1979)

This blog is a labour of love, flowing from my interest in the topics I write about and the perceived interest of readers in the English speaking world and beyond. In the past weeks I have seen a surge in page views here and sharing of my blog posts on social media and in other blogs and websites (I suspect the Synod may have had something to do with that…) It is always a joy to see that happening and every link and retweet is appreciated. It is one of the reasons I keep on doing this, in between my daily chores, work, family, Church and social activities.

You can also show your appreciation by donating financially, not to Her Sisterness above, but via the handy PayPal button below or in the left sidebar. Your donation, no matter how great or small, will help in my continued blogging and contribute to the upkeep of the small household I call home, the place from where I blog.

In addition to my gratefulness, I will remember all donors in my prayers and am willing to pray or light a candle for any specific intentions you may have.

I am also thinking of expanding into writing on assignment, so if you are interested in discussing the possibilities of that, drop me an e-mail at mr.hofer@gmail.com.

Bishops: for refugees, donate time, money, prayer and hospitality

Logo BisschoppenconferentieThe Dutch bishops, meeting last weekend, perhaps unsurprisingly, decided to heed the call of Pope Francis to offer aid to refugees. They are following the example of bishops in Germany and other countries, and a decision on this topic had been forthcoming. I already came across grumblings that the bishops as a whole were keeping rather quiet about refugees and their plight. Only Bishops Gerard de Korte and Jos Punt had shared their thoughts on the websites of their dioceses. More on that in a later post.

They urge faithful to open their hearts: “We stimulate faithful to sign up for volunteers’ work at, for example, refugee centres, where there is often a need among refugees for a Dutch “buddy”, who can help finding the way at Dutch government agencies. It can also, for example, have great value for Christian refugees to be accompanied by a Dutch Christian.” The bishops also mention that there are other ways of helping, not least by way of displays of hospitality.

When it comes to donating goods, the bishops defer to professional aid agencies in indicating what is needed. They want to enter into discussions on short notice with these organisations to map out what is needed to shelter a family or group of refugees in faith communities.

On 20 September, there will be a collection in parishes. Funds collected will go to refugee aid and shelter.

A more expansive statement on the refugee crisis and its various aspects is forthcoming. In the meantime, the bishops ask for prayer, in addition to the aforementioned donations of time, money and Christian charity.