Victims of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church should receive compensation and the church cannot relinquish its responsibility towards victims due to the lapse of time. These are two of the conclusions drawn by Wim Deetman after months of research into cases of sexual abuse in Catholic institutions in the Netherlands. The preliminary findings of the Deetman Commission were presented in The Hague on Thursday.
A number of victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church spoke with chairman of the inquiry Wim Deetman after the presentation of his report. One of them, Mark Klabbers, says the ball is very much in the court of the government with regard to dealing with the complaints and providing help. Many victims have been very disappointed by the reactions by the church authorities so far:
“You cannot expect people to go to the house of someone who has systematically abused you for help. It is all about feeling safe and having confidence. That is the first thing victims need. We cannot automatically say to the church that we have confidence in it. There is no reason to,” says Mr Klabbers.
Mr Deetman is “very satisfied” with the cooperation he got from the church authorities. He appeals for compassion and sympathy from the church for the victims; even though that is outside the scope of the commission’s investigation. “These are things that cannot be changed. If you apologise, you have to make sure they are not just empty words, because they do not take away the suffering. That is something you have to work on.”
Wim Deetman hopes to present his final report in November 2011. The commission is not looking into cases of sexual abuse outside the Netherlands, even if it has been committed by Dutch priests. This has not been included inside the scope of the commission, says Mr Deetman.
A total of 1975 complaints about sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands were submitted. Over 1300 people contacted the committee directly, 600 complaints were passed on via church organisation Hulp & Recht (Help and Justice). Mr Deetman believes help for the victims should be organised as quickly as possible.
“Victims got in touch with us and told us their story. We are grateful for that because otherwise we would not have been able to get on. They also want to know what the effect of such a big inquiry will be. However, there are also individual cases where people need help and assistance. Some people want compensation. We have said that that must take priority. We have to make thorough recommendations for the inquiry to be credible,” says the chairman of the Deetman commission.
The report is very critical of the Catholic organisation Hulp & Recht, set up by the church to help victims of sexual abuse, the commission calls for far-reaching measures to be taken. The executive board of the organisation has since offered to stand down.
Mr Deetman also says that any semblance of involvement by the church authorities should be avoided. To guarantee this, an independent organisation has to be set up for victims. This organisation should handle complaints, set up a procedure for compensation, initiate disciplinary measures against priests and organise professional help. There is a clear need for help among the victims, says Mr Deetman.
“Some people don’t want any money, others do. Some want self-help groups to be set up. Talking with one another can help enormously and ease the suffering. A centre for high-quality care should be set up now. That can be done very quickly.”
Mr Deetman’s recommendations also include compensation. “You have to have a clear procedure for this and you shouldn’t take too long about it. It should be set up to include any new cases that come to light. I hope that doesn’t happen, but you have to take this into account for the future.”
Earlier this week, different groups of victims asked for a parliamentary inquiry into the abuse. They had no faith in the church or the commission which was set up by the church.
“We had no consultation, we didn’t ask what the church wanted. If we did ask anything it was because we needed information,” stresses Mr Deetman. “However, I do understand the victims. Some of them, many, have faced one disappointment after another for 39, 40 or 50 years. They feel they have been banging their heads against the wall. And then the Deetman Commission comes along and expects them to have confidence in it. That is not very realistic.”
Mr Deetman is “very satisfied” with the cooperation the commission got from church officials. He only asks one more thing: compassion and sympathy for the victims.