The heart of the report: “What on earth has gone wrong?”

The Deetman report, still wrapped in plastic before today's press conference

Having just watched the press conference about the final report of the Deetman committee, I am letting the words and number sink in. I took some notes as Mr. Deetman elaborated on the conclusions of the 18-month investigation, and I will use those to compose this blog post. For readers who want a more thorough explanation: you can download a summary in English here. The complete report, consisting of two hefty books, can be purchased from the publisher or in bookstores.

The title of this post can be considered the main conclusion that the committee drew, the question of “what has happened in society that led to such outbursts of violence?” Said violence included the sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, but also much more beyond. That, I believe, is the question that society should ask itself, and which this report can hopefully help in finding a solution for.

Anyway, on the points of the conclusion which I jotted down:

Mr. Deetman started by expressing his surprise at finding that the structure of the Church was and is fragmented, despite impressions. Bishop, dioceses, orders and superiors often acted alone, keeping problems to themselves and trying to find solutions internally. The capacity to solve said problems was small or non-existent. The bishops had the topic of sexual abuse on the agenda since the late 1940s, but efforts to find solutions ceased at the onset of the Second Vatican Council and certainly at the Pastoral Council. Many other things that needed answers led to the abuse question being buried and forgotten. Only in the 1980s, when women’s movements drew attention to the abuse of women, did the sexual abuse of minors return to the agenda of the bishops. This led to the creation of the Hulp & Recht agency, the first in the world of its kind.

The issue of cultural silence, the statement that people simply did not know, can not be upheld. People, including the Catholic laity, did know, but didn’t act on it, and when they did, the focus was on the perpetrators. Mr. Deetman explains that this was fed by canon law, which as an internal legal body is focused on the the identity and behaviour of those within the Church. Victims were left out in the cold for various reasons, including the fact that talking about sexuality was a taboo and the concept of a person with authority committing such things was, frankly, not believed.

Returning to the aforementioned pastoral council, this gave the impression that the Church’s teaching about celibacy would change soon. All the priests contacted by the Deetman committee, who became priests in this time, said they did so with the expectation that they would soon not be required to live celibate anymore.

Of a survey among Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the committee drew the following conclusions, although it stresses that the numbers should be treated extremely careful and that the margins are intentionally large.

  1. 1 in every 10 Dutch people aged 40 and older (which is 9.7% of the population) has been at one time sexually approached by someone from outside the family before they were 18.
  2. This number is slightly higher among Catholics, but that is not because of the religion. Cultural, social, economic and other factors also play a part.
  3. The chance of sexual harassment is twice as high within confined relationships of authority, such as schools and daycare centres. This, again, is not limited to Catholic institutions, but also occurs elsewhere.
  4. 1 in every 2 to 300 people have some experience with sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, in our outside specific institutions. The chance of such is higher in boarding schools. The reason: Failed supervision.
  5. The total number of abused people, who were minors at the time and spent at least a part of their youth in boarding schools, is 10 to 20,000. In total, the number is in the several tens of thousands. The abuse has a wide range, from mild and without physical contact to involving penetration. The severity and the consequences are therefore equally divergent. There were about 1,000 serious cases within boarding schools, and several thousand outside it.
Deetman during the press conference

The question of whether celibacy plays a role in whether or not a man is likely to abuse a minor can be answered with a no. There is no evidence that celibacy leads to abuse. But Deetman stressed there  that this is not a fact. The committee has simply been unable to find evidence for it, which does not mean it does not exist. Despite that, there have been several cases of sexuality out of need. If celibacy had been voluntary, a number of cases would not have happened.

And then, the final question: and now?

The work of the committee, Deetman said, was to a certain extent sad and frustrating, since it deals with an incomplete past which we can do nothing about. We can’t change the facts.

As for practical measures to prevent such horrible crimes happening again, the committee advised the bishops and the religious conference to appoint a single portfolio holder for the abuse question: a person who can keep an eye on things and be a recognisable go-to person and coordinator of the Church’s response to future developments. Archbishop Eijk has assured Mr. Deetman that there will a group of four people, including at least one bishop, to hold that portfolio.

One of the things this group will need to focus on is the continuing contact with victims. In the past, there have been meetings between bishops or superiors and victims from which the victims came back severely disappointed, while the bishop or superior thought it was a good conversation. Compensation, help, a listening ear and conversation, this is what is needed in the future. Human relations need to be restored, which include understanding and listening.

Later today, as I wrote in the previous post, the bishops and the religious conference will offer a reaction to all of the above.

Photo credit: [1] Antoin Peeters, [2] NRC/screenshot NOS


Advice to bishops and religious: compensate victims graciously

In a succinct yet thorough advice, the Lindenbergh Commission, established by the bishops’ conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious, has published their recommendations regarding financial compensation to victims of sexual abuse by priests, religious and others employed by Catholic institutions.

In essence, the advice foresees the creation of a collective financial responsibility for all Catholic institutions. In five categories, the Lindenbergh Commission recommends financial compensation ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 euros. An independent commission of non-Catholics is to judge the compensation in individual cases. No accused party may refer to the statute of limitations to avoid payment, and neither is appeal an option.

It’s a strict and clear advice, which has been welcomed by victims’  associations and spokesmen. Speaking for the bishops and religious, Bishop Gerard de Korte and Brother Cees van Dam have repeated that the interest of the victim comes first. They will be studying the advice given, and will await another report about the reorganisation of aid organisation Hulp & Recht, before deciding on the actual implementation.

Read the full report (in Dutch) here.

International attention for the abuse crisis, and the episcopal response

Following yesterday’s publication of the first report by the Deetman Commission, the news of the Dutch Church’s abuse crisis has broken internationally. Not all of the international headlines refer to proper news, speaking as they do about the number of reports made to Hulp & Recht (almost 2,000), which has been known for at least a number of weeks already. Most articles luckily also mention the main points from yesterday’s report, and also the preliminary response from the Dutch bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious.

That response is not very remarkable, but considering the attention the case has received lately, I will offer a translation below. The text will also be available via the Translations tab above, but I think this is important enough to warrant a place on the main page of my blog.


Press release following the publication of the report by the Deetman Commission
Utrecht / ‘s-Hertogenbosch, 9 December 2010
The Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR) have taken notice today of the report Towards help, recompense, openness and transparency from the Commission for research into sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church (Deetman Commission). The superiors of the KNR and the bishops value giving thanks to and complimenting commission chairman drs. W. J. Deetman, the members and the researchers for the fast and professional handling of this first research task considering aid to the victims.
The bishops and superiors of the KNR once again underline that they forcefully denounce any form of sexual abuse. There can and should be no room for sexual abuse within the Church. Abuse is at odds with the Gospel and the dignity of the human person and the inviolability of children. To all victims, religious superiors and bishops once again offers their heartfelt sympathy and apologies. But apologies alone are not enough.
On 11 May of this year, religious and bishops agreed with the research proposal as formulated by former Speaker of the House drs. W. Deetman. This offered priority to advice about the aid to the victims. Then (and now) the bishops and religious superiors consider it of great importance to hear from the Commission where additions to the aid offered is desired and how the existing procedure may be optimised.
The religious superiors and the bishops also expressed their trust that the Deetman Commission conducts a transparent, independent and scientific investigation. The victims especially have a right to independence and transparency. In addition, they are indispensable for the Church to help the victims as well as possible and to effectively prevent abuse in the future. The report now presented is the direct result of that. But an independent and transparent investigation alone is not  enough.
The report presented today, with conclusions and recommendations, offers much food for thought, decision and implementation. The Conference of Dutch Religious, the Bishops’ Conference and the Church body Hulp & Recht established by them will now enter into consultation to study the consequences of the advice of the Deetman Commission and its implementation. To assure an effective process, agreements will be made as soon as possible.

Deetman releases first report and does not pull punches

This morning, during a press conference, the Deetman Commission released their first official report relating to the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. The 74-page document offers an overview of the aid available to victims in the past 15 years via Hulp & Recht, and it is not mild in its criticism. Essentially, the Commission finds, the intentions and professionalism was present, but practice and procedure were sorely lacking. Neither Hulp & Recht nor the bishops come away scot-free: in an overview of meetings that the Commission had with victims, Archbishop Eijk is named twice for not following professional advice in a specific abuse case, and Bishop de Korte is also mentioned for making promises that the Church was unable to keep. The fact that these two bishops were even specifically mentioned speaks volumes, I think.

Not surprisingly, the Deetman Commission proposes a complete overhaul of the aid system in place now. Hulp & Recht even needs to change its name, since it has offered neither help nor justice.

The full report may be downloaded here (with a tip of the hat to Isidorusweb).

Photo credit: Valerie Kuypers/ANP

Beyond the deadline

The commission Deetman, investigating the abuse crisis in the Church, has closed its first major phase yesterday. The deadline for reporting new cases was yesterday. A spokesman for the commission said: “A few responses trickled in on Wednesday [1 December], but there was no flood of new reports. People who want to inform the commission are well aware of the deadline.”

New reports after today will not be ignored, but won’t be used for the scientific investigation. The commission first advice, regarding aid to the victims, is expected on 9 December.

Bishop Gerard de Korte, spokesman on behalf of the Dutch bishops on the abuse crisis, expressed his shock and horror when he looked back on the past year. “That last week we got the news that a victim was abused by no less than seven priests, that is disgusting. That is so shameful. You feel powerlessness, anger, sorrow: all emotions at the same time. But that is of course nothing compared that what the victims have been through.”

The bishop describes 2010 as ‘hectic’, “and we haven’t reached the end yet”.

The vast majority of the sexual and physical abuse took place in religious orders and congregations. 85% percent of the reports that Hulp & Recht received related to these. The pastoral need among the religious is many times greater than among diocesan priests, Bishop de Korte says.

“It is also sad that the good works of brothers is now overshadowed by this. Evil shouts, good whispers. Because there are many religious who have worked all their lives. A few bad eggs among them have destroyed a lot.”

Please, God, let it not be true

Bishop Gijsen as head of the Roermond diocese

Bishop Jo Gijsen, emeritus of the Dioceses of Roermond (1972-1993) and Reykjavik (1996-2007), is being accused of sexual abuse, it became known today. A former student at the Rolduc seminary lodged the complaint which states that Bishop Gijsen, then a teacher there, would peek at the student in his bed, while the latter was masturbating. Bishop Gijsen denies the accusation, which relates to the period between 1959 and 1961.

He states: “If it is true what is being said, it must be a case of mistaken identity. I could not have been that, because I wasn’t in the situation. That they may know me could be true, because I was a teacher. But I could not have done that.” What Bishop Gijsen means with ‘not having been in the situation’ remains to be seen. At the moment the complaint, which was lodged in May, is being investigated by Hulp en Recht.

Bishop Gijsen further says he received two letters from Hulp en Recht, informing him of the accusation against him. “I received the last letter at the end of July or beginning of August. I am not under the impression that any more is forthcoming from Hulp en Recht, or that there is anything I need to do now.”

I find myself fervently hoping the accusation is unfounded. We do not need a Dutch version of the Vangheluwe mess. Please let Bishop Gijsen, Hulp en Recht, the alleged victim and all other parties involved be as open and honest as they possible can. Don’t let them sit back and wait, but let them take action to dig out the truth as soon as possible, even, and especially, if it doesn’t fit the agenda of the secular media. I hope it doesn’t fit that agenda.


The Diocese of Roermond announces that, following today’s news reports, it has been familiar with the accusation against Emeritus Bishop Gijsen. Bishop Frans Wiertz, who succeeded Bishop Gijsen in 1993, has informed the Public Prosecutor immediately, as is policy. Since the accusations concern a bishop, the papal Nuncio has also been informed.


“Why did no one sound the alarm before?” – an update on the work of the Deetman commission

I’ve been slacking a bit when it comes to blogging, I realise. Part of the reason is that the summer is still not completely over (although the weather would have us believe otherwise) and in the Church ordinary time trundles along, only punctuated here and there with some significant solemnities and Marian feasts. In other words, not a whole lot seems to be happening when it comes to the Church in the Netherlands.

But there is something interesting to write all the same. Wim Deetman, the chairman of the commission investigating abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, has given an update on the progress made so far. The commission has collected some 900 reports of abuse and pans to host two or three major meetings with victims in the autumn. These will of course be closed meetings, for which everyone who has come forward receives a personal invitation.

Mr. Deetman seems to use a very practical approach with an eye chiefly on the victims. He wants to open a separate channel for aid and care, since many victims do not wish to make use of the existing Hulp & Recht institute, which was established by the Church some ten years ago. “In that case you must investigate alternatives,” Mr. Deetman said. “It is important that the aid has an institutionalised framework.”

The vast majority of reports are about things that happened many years ago. “We’re still busy collating and investigating all reports, and we have not drawn conclusions. But I can already say that that the cases not subject to the statute of limitations can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The vast majority of facts dates from long ago.”

Deetman also expresses his amazement at how people could keep these facts to themselves for so long.”Why did no one sound the alarm before? […] You hear and read things that are beyond me. How do you even conceive of doing such things with children?”

In the meantime, the media prove to be a bit of an obstacle. Deetman has asked the editors of several media outlets for permission to use the facts they know in his investigation as well. But none seem to be too eager. About the 400 reports in their possession, NRC Handelsblad says, “just as we don’t cooperate with police requests, I don’t think we will be passing on the data which we have collected as journalists to Deetman.” The Wereldomroep says likewise,”We won’t give Deetman access to our files just like that. We have told people that we would treat their information with care. We will pass on Deetman’s request to the people who have come forward to us, so that they can decide for themselves.”

Freedom of press and all is fine, but this seems to be very counterproductive. The position taken by the Wereldomroep is understandable when it comes to leaving the decision to the victims, but generally keeping the data secret seems to me like a willful prevention of reaching the openness and honesty that the same media demanded from the Church earlier.

Press release from the bishops on abuse

Below is the official press release from the Dutch bishops, following their meeting earlier today, where they discussed their response to the sexual abuse cases that occurred in the 1950s to 1970s in several Catholic institutions.

The Dutch Bishops’ Conference, in consultation with the Conference of Dutch Religious (KNR), announces the following:

Like the management of the KNR, the bishops are deeply moved by the heartrending stories of sexual abuse which have been revealed these past days. Any form of sexual abuse must be forcefully condemned because it is at odds with the Gospel and the dignity of the human person. It is a painful realisation and a sin to be confessed that proper care for children and young people, especially in the middle of the last century, was lacking in a number of priests and religious. Contacts must obviously be pure, transparent and respectful, especially with the smallest among us (cf. Matt. 18, 1-6). To those who were victim of abuse in Catholic boarding schools, religious and bishops offer their heartfelt sympathies and apologies.

It is clear that there is a great need among the victims to be heard and so recognised. This is the first responsibility of the separate dioceses, orders and congregations. It is desireable that victims are brought in contact with the responsible people of order, congregation or diocese.

The number of reports of abuse in former Catholic formative and educational institutions requires further investigation. The bishops’ conference and the KNR prefer a broad, external and independent investigation. Such a complex investigation must be done carefully. Under the guidance of drs. W. J. Deetman, the required expertise will be collected in the near future, a plan of investigation will be established and a timeline will be laid out.

To assure optimal cooperation with the investigation, the bishop’s conference has Msgr. Dr. G. de Korte, bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, to be referent and spokesman. From the KNR, secretary general prof. dr. mr. P. Chatelion Counet will take that role upon himself.

The bishops point out that Hulp & Recht remains the address for all reports.  (Postbus 13277, 3507 LG Utrecht, Here a careful investigation of individual reports will take place. For more information on Hulp & Recht, see

Professor Chatelion Counet, Bishop Punt, Bishop de Korte and Bishop Wiertz at the press conference