LONDON —Roman Catholic bishops in the Netherlands said Friday they offered “sincere apologies” to victims of sexual mistreatment, hours after a report by an official commission said church officials had “failed to adequately deal with” abuse, including rape, affecting as many as 20,000 Dutch children in Catholic institutions.
The findings showed what some analysts said was one of the highest levels of abuse in a continent that has been forced to confront a steady stream of public disclosures about the behavior of priests and church workers toward minors, maintaining pressure on the Vatican. It also said the church’s response to the victims in the Netherlands was not designed to help them but to “prevent scandals,” news reports said.
As the repercussions of sexual- abuse scandals continue to shake the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and the United States, the report said the commission had received some 1,800 reports of abuse at Catholic schools, seminaries and orphanages, accusing the church of a “failure of oversight.” The commission then conducted a broader survey, finding that from 1945 to 1981 between 10,000 and 20,000 children were sexually abused in church institutions, with offenses ranging from inappropriate touching to “several thousand” cases of rape.
The commission identified some 800 clergy and lay church workers named in complaints. Of them, 105 were still alive, but their status within the church was not clear.
The charges offered more testimony to the disturbing imagery of priestly abuse that have spread in recent years across Europe from Belgium to Ireland and Austria as well as in Canada and the United States, forcing Pope Benedict XVI to apologize to victims whose traumas were often hidden by church cover-ups.
Wim Deetman, a Protestant former education minister who led the commission, said the report showed that the extent of abuse could longer be denied. “The idea that people did not know it and administrators did not know it cannot be maintained,” he said, according to Reuters.
In a statement, the conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in the Netherlands said the abuse “fills us with shame and sorrow.” The bishops also said they were “shocked by the sexual abuse of minors and the practices detailed in this report.”
The latest accusations came just days after The Irish Times newspaper said the former archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid — widely regarded as the most powerful Catholic prelate in modern Irish history — stands accused of serial child sexual abuse before his death in 1973.
In March 2010, Pope Benedict apologized directly to victims and their families in Ireland, expressing “shame and remorse” for “sinful and criminal” acts committed by members of the clergy.
In July, a report by the Irish government said the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland was covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, long after it issued guidelines meant to protect children. That report accused the Vatican of tacitly encouraging the cover-up.
At the same time, Germany’s Roman Catholic bishops took new steps to bring previously unreported abuse to light, saying they would allow outside investigators to look for abuse cases in diocesan personnel records dating back at least 10 years, and in some cases all the way to 1945, though there were indications that some crucial records may have already been destroyed.
Record numbers of Catholics left the church in Germany in 2010 after hundreds of cases of previously unreported child abuse came to light, including a case of a priest with a history of molesting boys who was returned to pastoral duties by the archbishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. The priest was later convicted of molesting more boys.
In September, human rights lawyers and victims of clergy sexual abuse filed a complaintin the United States urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict and three top Vatican officials for crimes against humanity for what they described as abetting and covering up the rape and sexual assault of children by priests.
The formal filing of nearly 80 pages by two American advocacy groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was the most substantive effort yet to hold the pope and the Vatican accountable in an international court for sexual abuse by priests.
The latest report in the Netherlands said that, based on a survey of more than 34,000 people, 10 percent of Dutch children had suffered from some form of abuse. The proportion doubled to 20 percent among children who had spent some of their youth in institutions, irrespective of their affiliation, The Associated Press reported.
The commission was established by the government in 2010 to investigate accusations of abuse since 1945, following incidents at one cloister that inspired a series of accusations of priestly abuse at other institutions.
Last month, the Dutch branch of the Roman Catholic Church announced a system to compensate victims with payments of up to $138,000.
Almost one-third of the Netherlands’ 16 million people profess Catholicism, making their faith the largest in the country, according to the country’s official statistics for 2008.