At least 800 Roman Catholic priests and monks were involved in abusing children in their care between 1945 and 1985, according to a comprehensive report into the church sexual abuse scandal published on Friday.
In addition, church officials, bishops and lay people were aware of what was going on but failed to take action to protect children, the commission, lead by former Christian Democratic party chairman Wim Deetman, said.
The commission was set up by the Catholic church in March 2010 after the sexual abuse scandal broke in the Netherlands and hundreds of victims came forward. Over 2,000 people have now registered their abuse with the authorities and a number of cases will be taken to court.
The 1,100-page report aims to establish the size of the scandal, the consequences of the church’s silence and make recommendations for dealing with abuse in the past and in the future.
In its report, the commission says it has identified at least 800 priests, monks and other members of religious orders who were involved in abuse, of whom 105 are still alive. The commission did not say how many of them are still working for the church.
‘To prevent scandals, nothing was done: [the abuse was] not acknowledged, there was no help, compensation or aftercare for the victims,’ the report says. There was a policy of ‘not hanging out the dirty washing,’ Deetman told a news conference on Friday morning.
There is a ‘cultural silence’, Deetman said. There were rules for dealing with abuse and in some places they were enacted. The claim that church officials did not know what was going on does not hold water, Deetman said.
In total, several tens of thousands of children were faced with unwanted sexual contact from church officials between 1945 and 1985, Deetman said.
A survey by the commission shows that one in 10 people who were children during that period had to deal with abuse or potential abuse, but within church institutions the figure was one in five, the report said.
However, there is no difference between abuse within church and other institutions, the report shows.
Another commission, lead by senior justice ministry official Rieke Samson-Geerlings, is looking into the role of social services in placing children in institutions and foster homes where they were open to abuse.
While there is no scientific proof of a link between Catholic church celibacy rules and the sexual abuse of children, according to church records, some of the instances of abuse could be described as ‘out of sexual need’, Deetman said.
‘We do not consider it impossible that a number of cases would not have happened if celibacy was voluntary,’ he told the news conference.
In November, bishops and church officials voted in favour of giving compensation to hundreds of victims of sexual abuse. The total bill for the church could be as high as €5m.
In a statement later on Friday, Catholic bishops said they were shocked and shamed by the report.
Photo: Novum/Bart Maat
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