On Friday the Deetman Committee will present its final report on the abuse of children in the Catholic church. Will the true extent of the abuse finally be known or will the fact that the church itself ordered the investigation cast doubt on the outcome?
In February 2010 radio broadcaster Wereldomroep and NRC Handelsblad reported on the alleged abuse of at least 3 children by Catholic Salesian priests at a boarding school in s‘Heerenberg, a town in the province of Gelderland. The cases dated from the sixties.
The news opened the floodgates: thousands of people claiming to have been abused turned to Hulp & Recht (Help & Justice), a body set up by the Catholic church to deal with child abuse cases.
In March of that year the Dutch Conference of Bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious Orders decided to install a commission headed by former minister Wim Deetman to investigate sexual abuse in the church spanning the years between 1945 and 2010.
It was also decided to abolish the overwhelmed and ineffective Hulp & Recht and replace it with an independent body.
In February 2011 Deetman reported that he had a list of nearly 1,000 perpetrators of sexual abuse and that the number of cases exceeded 2,000.
Not everybody is convinced that the true extent of Catholic abuse will come to light. The Volkskrant spoke to American priest and canon law expert Thomas Patrick Doyle who has been campaigning on behalf of the victims of sexual abuse in the church since 1984.
His critical report on the matter was ignored by the church authorities and he was subsequently relieved of his duties as an air force chaplain after a conflict about saying daily holy mass.
Doyle, who has been travelling around the world to act as an ‘expert witness’ in abuse cases in the US, Canada and Ireland, thinks it is a mistake to think that any investigation ordered by the bishops themselves can be trusted to come up with the truth. ‘In the US bishops withheld information. It would have been better if the investigation had been completely independent’.
The pleas of ignorance that have been coming from the church authorities are false, according to Doyle. ‘Bishops everywhere knew of the abuse. In countries where the abuse was wide-spread the church was doing all it could to try to hide the fact, so much became clear from all the cases that finally came to court.’
Deny, transfer and pressurise
‘The normal procedure until the nineties would be to deny the abuse, transfer the offending priest and pressurise the family into silence and even offer bribes’, Doyle says. ‘But that is becoming more difficult now although it is different for third world countries where the church still reigns supreme and abuse is much harder to tackle.’
Doyle doesn’t think celibacy is at the root of the abuse. ‘Celibacy in itself doesn’t have to lead to rape. But it can give priests and bishops the idea that they are somehow on a higher spiritual plane. That narcissistic spirituality is the dark side of the church, the idea that you are better than others.
They set themselves up to be a-sexual beings and that is how they are perceived, by their victims as well. That is what made it such a terrible and lonely experience for them: how could a priest sin? It was inconceivable so nobody believed them. The damage these people suffered at the hands of people who were supposed to be paragons of virtue is incalculable’.
Things are not likely to change, Doyle thinks. The Catholic church is far from ready to take a hard look at itself. ‘Sexual abuse in the church has been going on for centuries. The church likes to think these are individual cases of erring priests but I am convinced that the cause lies within the structure of the church itself. Cover ups and abuse go hand in hand. They are Siamese twins. You have only to look at the protection of the priests and the hostility towards the victims to know that the system would never allow its structure to be questioned.’
Doyle is scathing about the compensation the church is according the victims. ‘€7,500 for rape? It’s an insult. Compensation claims should be set by lawyers or by the victims themselves. In the US claims are much higher, lawyers there get at the bottom of the damage and set a figure accordingly. People suffer for the rest of their lives, they feel isolated from the community, they may need psychiatric treatment. This is a pittance. I would throw it back in the bishops’ faces.’
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