New wave of abuse in the Church in the Netherlands? Not quite, but the need for vigilance remains

New revelations about sexual abuse, with the knowledge of a significant number of bishops no less, in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands? If certain headlines are to be believed, that is indeed the case. Reality, however, disagrees somewhat.

eindrapport%20commissie%20DeetmanIt all started with this article in major daily NRC. In it, reporter Joep Dohmen lists which bishops were in some way involved (peripherally or directly) in abuse cases between 18945 and 2010. At the bottom of his article he lists his sources, two of which are the report of the Deetman Commission and the commission collecting claims of abuse in the Church. Both are the result of the independent investigation which was commissioned by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious in 2010. The third source is a study by NRC itself.

This, together with the dates mentioned, already shows that the news is not new. The majority of cases took place decades ago, and the 20 bishops listed by Mr. Dohmen are all no longer active (in fact, 14 of them are deceased). All of the cases mentioned have been known at least since 2011.

Having all the facts straight can only be good, and the article in NRC at least serves as a good reminder for the Church to keep working for the victims and to do everything to prevent future abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the Church, and to see that the perpetrators are punished, if at all possible (after all, the law can do little against deceased persons, and is in many cases often limited by the statute of limitations). However, the NRC article has been labelled by some as populist. This in part because some of the facts presented are not necessarily the whole story. For example, the accusations against Bishop Jo Gijsen (bishop of Roermond from 1972 to 1993) have been challenged in court, with the judge determining that the evidence against the bishop was accepted all too readily and does not hold up in a court of law, and there are cases in which a bishop accepted the appointment of a bishop from another diocese without having been informed about his background.

That said, all of the above does not take anything away from the serious nature of sexual abuse, be it in the Church or elsewhere. No longer does any bishop have the excuse of claiming he couldn’t have known, or resort to simply transferring an abusive priest. Any bishop caught doing that should rightly be charged with aiding an abuser, and be punished accordingly.

However, this is the luxury of hindsight. As former spokesman of the bishops’ conference Jan-Willem Wits states in his excellent commentary on the article, such was the simple and painful reality:

“What I personally do not believe, and yet somehow read in the NRC pieces, is that bishops were a sort of leaders of a virtual criminal organisation which consciously closed its eyes to priests who could not control themselves. Of course the fear of a damaged reputation will have played its part, but I have seen a lot of shame and a lot of naivety. Especially the transferring of priests with abuse in their genes has, in hindsight, been unbelievably stupid and actually unforgivable. Now we know that the chance of recidivism is so very great that, even with therapy, let along after apologies and confession, it is only a matter of time for the bomb to blow.”

Hindsight is 20/20, they say. No one can change the past. But it can – and must – be a lesson. Lets hope that the lesson is being received.

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The search for facts

Next Wednesday, the 4th of April, looks to be an important day in the search for facts in the ongoing abuse crisis, and more specifically the recent news about past castrations of minors in the care of the Church. On that day, the parliamentary Commissions for Justice and Security and Health Care, Welfare and Sports will hear journalist Joep Dohmen (pictured), who broke the news in the NRC daily, and Wim Deetman, who led last year’s extensive investigation of sexual abuse of minors within the Church.

The Note that has been prepared by the Deetman commission is an extensive refutation of claims made by Mr. Dohmen in NRC, not only about the castrations, but also about the involvement of former Prime Minister Victor Marijnen (prime minister from 1963 to 1965), who allegedly tried to have facts hushed up. The Note is built on the nature of the castration claims, which were very incomplete and contradictory, and most importantly counters claims that the Deetman investigation was incomplete.

What Mr. Dohmen intends to say on the 4th is not yet known, but he will undoubtedly defend his own research and claims. The combined parliamentary commission will hear Mr. Deetman at 10 am and Mr. Dohmen at 11.

The most damning indictment against a Dutch bishop yet

Bishop Gijsen in front of the cathedral of Reykjavik, where he was bishop from 1996 to 2007

In September of last year I wrote about an abuse complaint lodged against Bishop Jo Gijsen, emeritus of Roermond and Reykjavik. The complaint was about the future bishop having spied upon a student at Rolduc seminary while the latter masturbated in bed, sometimes between 1959 and 1961. Msgr. Gijsen continues to deny that anything untoward happened, saying last year, in response to the accusation: “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.”

The complaints commission of the Catholic Church, working to get to the truth in numerous abuse cases, has now deemed otherwise. It considers the story of the former student “credible and honest”, NRC reports today. But the commission then continues with deciding the complaint inadmissible, since it does not deal with sexual abuse per se. The student did not forced to masturbate, and neither did it happen in a situation where one person was dependent on the other.

It would seem that the investigation of this claim halted at the stadium of deciding its believability. Msgr. Gijsen claims that the facts reported are not true. Since the complaints commission makes no judgement on that, we must be extremely careful in deciding what is and is not true here. But what remains is a serious indictment of the behaviour of a cleric in a time when much of the abuse that services now took place.

Who knows, maybe Bishop Gijsen is right in claiming that the complaint is based on things that never happened or involved someone else altogether. What we do know is that the complains had been deemed believable, and that Bishop Gijsen, if he did it, greatly overstepped the boundaries of propriety, to paraphrase the NRC report.

In September 2010, when the claim first surfaced, the Diocese of Roermond let it be known that it had passed the matter on to the public prosecutor. It is unknown what, if anything, they are doing, or will do, with it.

A second complaint against Bishop Gijsen is still being investigated.

Photo credit: Gerard Klaasen/RKK