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Oosterbeek, Netherlands
Oosterbeek, Netherlands

Dutch bishop investigated for alleged abuse in Kenya

Published on : 5 July 2011 - 1:10pm | By (Photo: AFP)
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The Dutch Public Prosecutor's Office in Arnhem is investigating whether there is enough evidence to prosecute Bishop Cornelius Schilder for the sexual abuse of an underage boy in Kenya 18 years ago, a spokesperson has confirmed to Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

By Hettie Lubberding & Robert Chesal

Bishop Schilder, now living near the Dutch village of Oosterbeek, has been interrogated by the police, according to an insider. On Monday his lawyer told RNW that Schilder denies all allegations against him.

The Dutch Public Prosecutor launched an investigation after a report surfaced earlier this year through the Deetman Commission, which is researching abuse in the Dutch Catholic Church.

Complicated
The Commission refused to comment directly on the matter, but confirmed that it submits serious complaints to the Public Prosecutor's Office. The police officially logged the accusation following a request to investigate from the Public Prosecutor.

Spokesperson Ellen Prummel confirmed that the Arnhem Public Prosecutor's vice squad is considering whether or not the case "truly indicates a criminal offence, and if there are enough leads to warrant further investigation". Prummel could not confirm how long this will take. The fact that the victim is living in Kenya and has not notified the police in the Netherlands makes it a "complicated case." It is also unclear whether the abuse happened too long ago to be prosecuted under Dutch law.

'Passed on'
The accuser, 32-year-old Michael ole Uka, claims he was abused for years by various foreign priests in Kenya. He came forward in 2005 and informed the church authorities of his allegations when he suffered such severe injuries from abuse that he required urgent medical treatment. The treatment was paid for by the Mill Hill Missionaries, the congregation to which the accused priests and Dutch bishop belong. Uka also received financial compensation and further aid. The congregation expatriated an Irish priest involved in the abuse. Mill Hill has relieved the priest of his duties but is still waiting for a Vatican decision to laicise him.

Uka says the abuse started when he was seven years old. Several members of the clergy allegedly 'passed him on' to each other. The abusers paid Uka's school fees, which made him feel obliged to permit the abuse, although he says: "I knew it was wrong what they were doing." In addition to Schilder, Uka says he was also abused by another Dutch priest who has since passed away.

"He gave me a coffee, showed me my room and started touching me immediately" says Uka, describing his first encounter with Cornelius Schilder.

Touch him
Uka told of his apparent ordeal in a documentary shown on Irish television last month and says the bishop began abusing him in 1993 when he was 14 years old. At the time, Schilder was a priest in the Kenyan diocese of Ngong. In 2003, he was promoted to bishop in Ngong.

"He asked me whether this other priest had touched me as well, and I said yes. Then he told me to touch him too and do the same things I had done to the other priest. At the time I thought all priests did these kinds of things." 

The documentary on the Irish RTE network also quoted the father superior of the Mill Hill Missionaries, Anthony Chantry. According to Chantry, the case has not been reported to the Kenyan police because homosexuality is still a crime in Kenya.

Serious conversation
Mill Hill earlier told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that a congregation official in Kenya had discussed the accusations with both the bishop and the victim. It was then decided to ask the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Kenya and the Papal Nuncio, the Ambassador to the Vatican in Nairobi, to conduct an ecclesiastical investigation. Both declined to take action.

After repeated failed requests by the Mill Hill Missionaries, the Vatican finally intervened three years later, according to an insider. In August 2009 the Dutch bishop was summoned to Rome for a "very serious conversation". He did not return to Kenya but went into immediate retirement in a Mill Hill home in the Dutch town of Oosterbeek.

False and inappropriate
Rome's official line is that Bishop Schilder has health problems. Since 2009 he has no longer been allowed to carry out the duties of a bishop and as a priest he has been placed under supervision of Mill Hill. This makes him the first Dutch bishop to be punished by the Vatican for sexual abuse of a minor.

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As Michael ole Uka sees it, justice has not been done. His life has been ruined, "while the bishop enjoys his pension in Europe". Bishop Schilder denies the accusation and has until now been unwilling to speak to the media. On Monday, however, he told RNW via his lawyer that "Michael ole Uka's accusation of sexual abuse is false."

Bishop Schilder also added that he "considers it inappropriate to issue a statement as long as an investigation is ongoing." He says he regrets that the media have publicised the matter before investigations are completed. 

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