The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Thursday, December 9, 2010
Vatican has “no comment” re 2,000 Victims; SNAP Responds
Statement by Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach CA, western regional director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (949 322 7434, [email protected])
It’s cold and irresponsible for Vatican officials to say and do nothing in response to news that 2,000 once-trusting and devout Catholics have been sexually victimized by Netherlands’ clerics.
Pope Benedict, like his predecessor, clearly finds it convenient to ignore this on-going crisis until it erupts slowly, country by country, and then defer entirely to local bishops to supposedly enact reform. Instead, he needs to take decisive global action – not apologies, meetings, or gestures – that effectively protect kids right now.
At best, it’s silly, and more accurately, it’s callous for Benedict to passively wait and watch as deeply wounded victims speak up en masse, then “punt” and claim the very bishops who caused the scandal will somehow completely reverse course and fix it.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, [email protected]), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, [email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, [email protected])
Dutch Panel Found 2,000 Church Abuse Claims
By STEPHEN CASTLE - Published: December 9, 2010
BRUSSELS — The Roman Catholic Church, battered by sexual abuse scandals from the United States to Belgium, is facing a new set of allegations now in the Netherlands. Figures released Thursday by an investigative commission showed that almost 2,000 people have made complaints of sexual or physical abuse against the church, in a country with only 4 million Catholics.
“The Roman Catholic church has not faced a crisis like this since the French Revolution,” said Peter Nissen, professor of the history of religion at Radboud University, of the growing abuse scandal.
With one legal case starting this week, and accusations against two former bishops, the reaction of the church appears to have fueled the crisis. Nearly all of the cases are decades old, with probably no more than 10 from the last 20 years.
Asked in March on TV about the hundreds of complaints already surfacing then, one of its most senior figures, Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, shocked the nation by replying not in Dutch but in German.
“Wir haben es nicht gewusst” — we knew nothing — he said, using a phrase associated with Nazis excuses after the Second World War - a parallel that has reverberated around the Netherlands.
“A lot of people perceived it as an affirmation of the culture of covering up cases,” said Professor Nissen, adding that, because of its association with the Nazis, it meant to many “’we should have known’ or ‘we knew but we didn’t want to know.’”
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he had no comment, saying that the matter was in the hands of Dutch bishops.
Next month Cardinal Simonis, the retired bishop of Utrecht but for 38 years a prominent public face of Roman Catholicism in the Netherlands, will make legal history by testifying as a witness in a court hearing involving sexual abuse which started Tuesday in Middelburg.
In an interim report, issued Thursday, a commission headed by Wim Deetman, a Protestant former education minister, said it had received a total of roughly 1,975 reports of sexual, or physical abuse, some directly but others through a body set up to cater for victims called Hulp en Recht or Help and Justice.
The document recommends that bishops accept responsibility “for the suffering caused to many people by sexual abuse” and should not rely on the statute of limitations to avoid making compensation.
In neighboring Belgium the resignation earlier this year of the former Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who later admitted abusing his nephew, convulsed the church and prompted hundreds of victims to come forward.
One central allegation in the Netherlands is that, as in other countries including the United States, known abusers were simply transferred to new parishes.
In recent weeks it emerged that a Roman Catholic order, the Salesians of Don Bosco, paid 16,000 euros, about $22,000, to the alleged victim of one bishop, Jan ter Schure, who died in 2003. The abuse is said to have taken place at the Don Rua monastery in Ugchelen between 1948 and 1953. The order declined to comment.
Meanwhile Hulp en Recht is examining claims against a former Roman Catholic bishop, Jo Gijsen, now aged 78, who has been accused of having an abusive relationship with a pupil at the Rolduc seminary between 1959 and 1961.
The ex-pupil claims that the ex-bishop would watch him masturbating at night in a dormitory, and the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad also reported that an unnamed former pupil had told them that Mr. Gijsen used to get into bed with pupils. Both allegations have been denied by the former bishop.
Under pressure from the growing public backlash, the church has set up another committee, chaired by Professor Siewert Lendenbergh of Erasmus University, Rotterdam, to investigate the legal aspects of compensation for claimants.
Central to the growing public debate over the church’s culpability is the extent to which sexual abuse was tolerated and covered-up.
In a recently-published book entitled “Pious Sinners,” Joep Dohmen, argues that, instead of dealing with allegations of pedophilia, there was a policy of moving known abusers around the Netherlands, often exiling them to small, rural communities.
"Cardinal Simonis and other Dutch bishops swept abuse cases under the carpet,” said Mr. Dohmen “They transferred offending priests, and provided little care to victims.
“Cardinal Simonis did this as did Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink, Bishop Frans Wiertz, and Bishop Jo Gijsen. “Members of congregations and religious orders such as the Jesuits and the Salesians did the same."
This theory is being tested in the pre-trial hearing in which Cardinal Simonis will testify and which began this week in Middelburg. It involves an 88-year-old priest who was convicted of abusing three youngsters while serving as a priest in Ter Nauzen near Middelburg in Zeeland.
He had been arrested, though not prosecuted, on similar grounds in the late 1970s when he was director of a Catholic youth center near The Hague. At the time Cardinal Simonis was bishop of Rotterdam, the diocese of which covers The Hague.
The alleged victim’s lawyer, Martin De Witte, who represents around 120 other people claiming abuse, said his client wants an apology and damages. He said the hearing aims to put pressure on the Church.
“We chose this case because it’s a relatively young victim,” he said, “and a situation where we say the Catholic Church didn’t take the measures to protect children from this man. They gave him another chance, and another, and another.”
Pieter Kohnen, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, said that, under its rules, the diocesan bishop does not have responsibility for institutions run by Catholic orders.
Mr. Kohnen argued that cases of sexual abuse now coming to light took place predominantly before 1970 and were mainly concentrated in the religious orders that controlled many boarding schools and boys’ clubs in those years.
“The official figures of Hulp & Recht,” he said, “show that, of the
1799 cases notified to Hulp en Recht since March of this year, less than 10 took place between 1990-2010. Of the 1799 cases 265 relate to clergy in one of the seven dioceses and around 1,500 are related to members of religious orders and congregations, mostly male members.”
Mr. Kohnen rejected the accusation that perpetrators of sex crimes were simply moved around the country.
“ The general allegation is extremely general and not in conformity with the facts,” he said, “people were replaced but not without therapy or proper help – what was felt necessary in the circumstances. There are also examples were they were given work without contact with children.”
According to Professor Nissen, the expert in religious history, the church’s argument that it has little authority over religious orders is correct, but he thinks this is a narrow position to take.
“They take a legal, canonical, approach but you could take a pastoral approach and say that bishops are leaders of the Catholic community, and that religious orders, while having autonomy, are part of this community,” Professor Nissen said.
Nor does it satisfy Mr. De Witte, the lawyer representing victims.
“The Catholic Church,” he said, “exported the problem. They should have known something was wrong.”
“We want to know what they knew, who made the decision, did they talk about sexual abuse? These are some of the questions we want answered by Cardinal Simonis.”
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests