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Dutch Church promises action on clerical abuse

The Dutch bishops’ conference has pledged action after nearly 2,000 people complained of sexual abuse by Catholic priests during an inquiry by an independent commission.

The complaints, dating to 1945, were received by a Church-appointed commission established by the bishops to investigate abuse cases.

Pieter Kohnnen, spokesman for the Utrecht-based bishops’ conference, said: “We’re grateful to this commission for its prompt and professional recommendations, and we reiterate our condemnation of all forms of sexual abuse.

“When the bishops asked for this investigation, they stressed that helping victims should have absolute priority, and that the research should be transparent and independent. This is very important if the Church is to avoid future abuse,” he said.

Mr Kohnnen said the Catholic Church believed “excuses and apologies are not enough” and that “firm action” was needed.

“The Church has to take responsibility for what has happened. If the government or parliament say this isn’t enough, they have a right to take further action,” he said. “It’s understandable that there’s a lack of trust in the Church, and it won’t be easy to rebuild this at a fundamental level.”

The commission was headed by former education minister Wim Deetman, a Protestant. Addressing a news conference in the Hague, Mr Deetman said 1,975 people had filed claims of abuse – 100 times the usual annual number – since March when a wave of allegations broke against Catholic clergy.

He said was “very satisfied” with co-operation by Church officials. Several cases already have been referred to Dutch prosecutors, he added.

“Victims got in touch and told us their story. We’re grateful for that,” Mr Deetman said.

“I understand these victims. Some of them, many, have faced one disappointment after another for 39, 40 or 50 years and feel they’ve been banging their heads against the wall,” he said.

Claims of abuse by Dutch clergy surfaced in March when Salesian Fr Herman Spronck, the most senior member of his order in the Netherlands, agreed to investigate allegations relating to a Catholic monastery in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Deetman commission, established in August, collected testimonies in collaboration with the Church’s Hulp en Recht (“Help and Law”) organisation, which was established in 1995 by the Dutch bishops to help abuse victims.

In the commission’s findings, Mr Deetman said some abuse victims wanted financial compensation, while others favoured self-help groups to “ease the suffering”.

He also said that Hulp en Recht had failed to work properly with abuse victims and explained that the aim now should be to “regain trust and do justice to the victims” as well as make compensation available.

In his CNS interview, Kohnnen said the bishops’ conference had seen the commission findings just before the press conference and would meet to consider its consequences with leaders of religious orders and the executive board of Hulp en Recht.

Plans for implementing commission recommendations are scheduled for publication by the Church in mid-December and would include either a “drastic reorganisation” of Hulp en Recht or the creation of a “completely new Church organisation” for helping victims, he said.

The bishops’ conference said in a statement that there “can and should be no room for sexual abuse within the Church”, adding that abuse was “contrary to the Gospel, dignity of the human being and inviolability of the child”.

In November, the Dutch Church established a separate commission, headed by Siewert Lindenbergh, a civil law professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, to examine the legal and canonical position of Catholic dioceses and religious orders in abuse cases and determine their responsibility under the liability, insurance and injury laws.