Media reports aplenty today about the protection given by Cardinal Ad Simonis to a convicted pedosexual priest during his tenure as archbishop of Utrecht. One such news report can be read in Dutch here. The first thing I thought, after the unpleasant sinking of my stomach, was “how strange that the title of the piece (‘Cardinal Simonis protected pedo-priest’) is presented as a quote, while the piece itself does not contain a source”. The only conclusion: it’s not a quote, but the conclusion of the author given some semblance of authority…
Anyway, that’s just a question that popped into my head. Here’s the case.
In 1991, the cardinal appointed a priest from the Diocese of Rotterdam to parishes in the town of Amersfoort. The priest’s bishop, Msgr. Ronald Bär of Rotterdam, allegedly wanted to get rid of the priest after it became clear that the latter had abused underage boys in his previous parish in Zoetermeer. So the Archdiocese of Utrecht claims. Cardinal Simonis chose not to inform the faithful of Amersfoort about their new priest’s history. He says, “That was part of the privacy of the priest involved and was no longer an issue because of restored trust. I did not offer him protection, but treated him based on a serious psychological advice. I would therefore not know what consequences I should personally attach to this question.” The cardinal also said that “a renowned development psychologist had concluded that it was responsible to give the priest a new appointment.’
Victims and parents of victims claim to have been brushed aside by the cardinal when they raised the issue, saying that ‘these things do not happen in the Catholic Church’.
Cardinal Simonis released the following statement after the news broke:
“At the time of the appointment of the priest R. in 1991 the archdiocese was aware of his history. Therapy and serious psychological advice in writing seemed enough of a basis for a new appointment. No signal about repeat offenses has ever reached the archdiocese from Amersfoort. The archdiocese has never been aware of any police investigation, neither via the victims, nor via the priest, nor via the priest R. himself. I myself heard about this for the first time yesterday.
For the victims it is seriously regrettable and I take their suffering seriously. Of course I was asked if I acted carefully enough at the time. From what I knew then: yes. Based on the then available facts action was taken after careful internal consultation. When new facts appear now, it is not easy to judge the actions of the past. We acted on what we knew then. Should it become clear now we didn’t act careful enough, based on insufficient information, that is highly regrettable and should still be remedied.”
The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch also felt called to release a statement, following rumours that priest R. had worked in a parish in Eindhoven in 2005:
“The priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht never had an appointment in a parish in the Diocese of Den Bosch, where he assisted on his own request. When the bishop of Den Bosch, in 2010, heard from the Archdiocese of Utrecht that there were issues with the priest, he informed the priests of the diocese that the man was no longer allowed to work in the Diocese of Den Bosch.l he then left the diocese.”
After Cardinal Simonis was succeeded by Archbishop Wim Eijk, the priest received a canonical punishment, being forbidden to perform any pastoral tasks in the archdiocese.
Lastly, for now, here is a translation of a short telephone interview with the priest in question, conducted today by katholieknederland.nl.
Have you ever abused children?
“I have never used or abused people. I admit that I did do something impermissible during my time as pastor in Zoetermeer, which I regret. I was convicted for that and received a conditional sentence for it. The court documents mention an assault, but it was no more than a touch. It was no assault, I know what happened.”
Are you a pedosexual?
“That is a hard term. I am attracted to boys of around 14 years of age. I can not help it.”
How did you deal with your feelings?
“I was unaware of my feelings in seminary. That only happened after my ordination. I have been able to control myself very well for the past 16 or 17 years. I stick to the rules.”
The article in NRC also included words from a victim. What is your reaction to the word ‘victim’?
“That is terrible. But it is his experience and I have to respect that. I did indeed approach the person mentioned. But he refused. But I did not continue. For me it was a friendship. That friendship continued, also after he had grown up. But he ended that friendship for reasons that are unknown to me.”
What did Cardinal Simonis when he knew of your past?
“The archdiocese sent me to a psychological institution, which the Church used more often. There it became clear that I no longer posed a risk.”
In 1998 the Ministry of Defence appointed you as chaplain. Apparently you passed the screening.
“At my application to the armed forces – I no longer had a criminal record – I did tell them that I had been convicted. But they did not consider that a problem then, because I was appointed as chaplain to the army. The Archdiocese of Utrecht, where I am incardinated, loaned me to the military ordinariate.”
How do you see your future?
“In all honesty? I hope I’ll get an acute cardiac arrest. What else can I do? I will not kill myself, but I will not judge people who do. I am glad I helped by good friends and former colleagues at this time.”
A cesspool, but where is it deepest? With Cardinal Simonis, with the archdiocese, with the military ordinariate? Somewhere else entirely? Above are the facts. In them I do detect the naiveté that has plagued the episcopate, and still does, to an extent. On the other hand, it is not as if Cardinal Simonis did nothing with the facts he had. He put his trust in psychology, as did the Defence Ministry. The cardinal’s took the steps he could, barring the priest from working in the archdiocese. The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, too, immediately limited to potential damage the priest could do once they heard about his past. Legal steps need to be undertaken by the court, not any bishop.
And the accused himself? A man who needs help, who admits he did wrong, but perhaps has a skewed picture of it. Let the facts be proven, let the guilty parties be punished, but also let’s keep the old truth in mind that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.