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Dutch Catholic church orders child sex abuse inquiry


By Perro de Jong / Radio Netherlands Worldwide

March 10, 2010

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands has ordered a "broad, external and independent" inquiry to investigate child sex abuse allegations.

While the Dutch Bishops' Conference and the Dutch Religious Conference met Tuesday to discuss the claims, politicians have been calling for a full parliamentary investigation. What approaches have been adopted in other countries?

Last week alone, there were over 200 new complaints of abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. As in the United States and Ireland, it no longer appears that an investigation into individual cases will be enough. A comprehensive explanation is needed in order to answer the question: how could this have gone on for so long?

There are a number of similarities between what appears to have happened in the Netherlands and the scandals that rocked the church in the US and Ireland. Here, it's also about abuse that occurred decades ago and the victims who have never received justice. And, just as in the US and in Ireland, the church's response is part of the problem. Most of the priests who were found out were simply given a reprimand and then moved elsewhere.

Rotterdam's Bishop Ad van Luyn, chairman of the Dutch Bishops' Conference, believes an independent inquiry commissioned by the church is the best way to show that times have changed and that the clerical authorities now condemn every case of abuse "clearly, openly and permanently".

John Jay Report

Bishop Van Luyn appears to have the US John Jay Report in mind. It was published in 2004, two years after revelations in the Boston Globe newspaper had caused nationwide outrage.

The US Bishops' Conference commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to launch a thorough inquiry. Of the 7,700 alleged abuse cases which were investigated, 6700 were confirmed. In no more than two percent of those cases had the guilty party actually been jailed.

The John Jay Report is still being used in the process of dealing with the scandal in the US. In 2007 alone, the Catholic Church paid out 615 million US dollars in compensation. Victims are able to seek redress through church courts which, unlike US civil courts, do not limit the time which can elapse between the offence and the case being brought.

Two Irish reports

Despite this, Dutch Socialist party MP Harry van Bommel has been calling through Twitter for a different approach. "As a politician and a Catholic" he wants to put the church's legal failings under the scrutiny of a parliamentary inquiry. Ireland has provided a precedent for this.

As early as 2000, the Irish government set up a commission to investigate child abuse inside Roman Catholic institutions and organisations. Last year, the commission, led by Justice Séan Ryan, concluded that ill-treatment and abuse were more often the rule than the exception.

At almost the same time, another judge, Yvonne Murphy, published a separate but just as shocking report on the Dublin Archdiocese. Her findings have so far led to the resignations of four prominent Irish bishops.

Irish or American?

The drawback with the Irish approach is that it takes so long. First the government has to make an official decision, and the inquiry remit has to be agreed. Only then can the real work begin.

And, while 97 percent of US dioceses co-operated with the John Jay Report, the Irish inquiry came up against closed doors.

In the country's church-run day and boarding schools and the other institutions investigated, many cases appeared to have been hushed up and forgotten. In the end, most information simply had to come from the victims' reports, which are more difficult to evaluate.

A longer wait?

Ireland had to wait nine long years before conclusions could be drawn. A long wait like that could increase the agony for the Dutch victims who are only now coming forward to Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the NRC newspapers or the Catholic organisation, Hulp & Recht (Help & Justice).

The situation in the Netherlands appears to resemble that in Ireland more than in the US. Here too, its mainly closed institutions that are involved. Any inquiry will need to have a strong mandate in order to force such institutions to reveal their secrets, and that's something parliament or government can provide.

2010 Mar 10