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Thursday 23 October  
Dormitory, Don Rua monastery
Robert Chesal's picture
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's-Heerenberg, Netherlands
's-Heerenberg, Netherlands

Dutch Catholic Church faces child sex abuse scandal

Published on : 26 February 2010 - 4:24pm | By Robert Chesal (Photo: St. Agatha, Erfgoedcentrum Nederlands Kloosterleven, Archief Salesianen van Don Bosco)
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"There was a knock at the door. I tried to scream but I couldn’t utter a sound." Janne Geraets, now 57, suffered repeated sexual abuse from the age of 11 at the hands of a priest at the Roman Catholic school where he was a boarder.

Amid the high-profile child sexual abuse scandals in the United States and other European countries, the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands has remained unsullied. But a joint investigation by Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reveals that this is unjustified.

Lured out of bed
Janne Geraets’ ordeal began in 1964, at the Don Rua monastery in the town of 's-Heerenberg in the east of the Netherlands. He was being trained by the Salesian Fathers of Don Bosco, in the hope of one day becoming a missionary. After a party, one of the priests lured Janne to the infirmary under the pretext of giving him medicine to ease his sore throat. "All of a sudden he was right up against me. He unzipped his trousers and forced my hand inside. I was in a state of utter confusion."

Absolution
After the incident, Janne returned to bed. But the next morning he was summoned by the same priest:

"I remember how my heart was pounding as I knocked on the door. He opened it and said 'That should never have happened'. He gave me absolution; he pardoned my sin. That confused me even more."

Janne Geraets was summoned to that same room again and again. "He would lie on his couch and put me on top of him, riding back and forth. I remember a knock at the door on one occasion. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. I wanted to yell 'this isn’t right, this isn’t allowed'. But there was no one to turn to. You’re too afraid to say anything. You think you are the dirty one and that they’ll throw you out of school."
 
Slideshow: images of Don Rua monastery. Story continues below.

 

Large-scale abuse
At the boarding school in ’s-Heerenberg, 80 to 100 boys between the ages of 12 and 18 slept in four large dormitories. "Sometimes you knew for sure: there’s something going on between that boy and that priest. And that other priest has a number of boys up in his room. It happened on a large scale. Several of the priests were involved.”
 
Janne Geraets thinks that not all of the contact was involuntary. “Some priests were more popular than others. You could tell because more boys visited them." The priest who abused Janne is now 98 years old. "Everything I held sacred turned out to be a façade," says Janne. "It was a huge blow to my self-confidence."
 
Too little, too late
Sexual abuse of children by priests has been brought to light in a number of countries, but the recent apologies from the Vatican are “too little too late”. At least, that is the opinion of Yvo van Kuijck, former chairman of the independent Assessment and Advisory Committee (Beoordelings- en Adviescommissie, BAC) which cooperates with Hulp & Recht, the Netherlands’ hotline for reporting sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
 
Since it was set up in 1995 the hotline has received almost 300 reports of sexual abuse. “It has taken too long for the Church to apologise and take action. (…) The Dutch bishops adopted the same ‘wait and see’ approach. I didn’t get the impression that dealing with sexual abuse was a priority for them."
 

Committee resigns
Two years ago, dissatisfied with the attitude taken by the Dutch bishops, Yvo van Kuijck, now vice-president of the District Court in Arnhem, resigned along with the entire Assessment and Advisory Committee. Priests guilty of abuse in one parish were simply transferred to another parish where they were free to find new victims. "Not only is that unprofessional, it’s inconceivable."

 

Girls as well as boys

Leonie Cramwinckel-Bloch was 15 years old and in her fourth year at secondary school in Doetinchem when she went on a school skiing trip. Her class was supervised by the English teacher, another Salesian father from the nearby monastery in 's-Heerenberg. It was December 1970. Leonie, who is now 54, says the priest sexually assaulted her, fondling her genitals on more than one occasion. She didn’t dare tell anyone.
 
"But I knew that he was wrong. Looking back, I was surprised by how easy and self-evident it was for him. That made me realise that it couldn’t have been the first time."

Back at school, she steered clear of the priest and only told her parents a few years later. The priest in question has since died.
 
Sexual harassment
There were other cases of abuse outside the monastery. Another Salesian father, now 72, taught maths in ’s-Heerenberg during the 1960s. He later became the parish priest at Saint Martin’s in Hoogland near Amersfoort. But in 1994, the archbishop of Utrecht suspended him following accusations of sexual harassment involving a young boy.

nrc.nl/international/ 
More from NRC International

No investigation
In a response, the priest says that there was little substance to the accusations. "We were in the sauna at a sports centre. The boy saw me naked. Nothing more. A man sitting next to me had an erection. But I didn’t touch the boy. It was a long time ago. I don’t think it’s right to stir all this up again."

Wim Flapper, former provincial head of the Salesians of Don Bosco, admits that the order did not try to get to the bottom of this incident. He says of the priest in Hoogland “He received psychotherapy. We took care of that. But we did not investigate whether there were other victims.”
 
Cause for investigation
Now that three priests from the same institution have been subject to accusations, former chairman of the Assessment and Advisory Committee, Yvo van Kuijck, sees cause for further investigation. Although it is no longer his responsibility, he believes that it is in the interests of the church to look into the matter. "If it’s a structural problem at an institution, then there is every reason to take a good look at what’s going on. The victims can still report abuse to the Hulp & Recht hotline. Even cases where the culprit has died are investigated."
 
Regret
Johan Marsman, now 68, ran the farm for the Salesians in ’s-Heerenberg during the 1960s. He has written a book about the Don Rua monastery. He is aware that the priests had relationships with the boys. "Under the previous head, Wim Flapper, nearly 15 years ago a meeting was organised for former students and the abuse was discussed. He expressed his regret and conceded that mistakes had been made."

Johan says most of the former students no longer want to talk about the incidents. He himself left the monastery in 1968.
 
When asked whether the priests at Don Rua had relationships with ‘favourite boys’, Johan Marsman nods. "Yes, I’ve heard that." He says the situation at Don Rua was not unique. "It happened everywhere, especially at the boarding schools. But it cannot be excused."
 
Trail to the top
In the period that Janne Geraets was abused at the Don Rua boarding school, the current Bishop of Rotterdam, Ad van Luyn, was working there as a teacher. In the 1970s, Bishop Van Luyn was provincial head of the Salesians. Since 2008 he has chaired the Netherlands' Synod of Bishops.
 
Ad van Luyn declines to discuss "past issues". Through a spokesman he explains that "matters relating to the congregation are the responsibility of the current father superior, even if they relate to previous governors."
 
Father Herman Spronck, currently the most senior Salesian in the Netherlands, denies all knowledge of abuse in ’s-Heerenberg and refers all inquiries to his predecessors. He is not opposed to an investigation and is keen to emphasise that sexual abuse goes against the vow taken by the Fathers of Don Bosco. “At Don Bosco, the inviolable sanctity of youth is key to our system of education.”

 

Discussion

Anonymous 27 December 2011 - 1:56am / unied teaes

h catholic church is the most evil institution in the hisory of he world

faiz jilani azhar 16 August 2011 - 3:06pm / pakistan

hi
Perhaps it would help reduce this revolting abuse if the Catholic church would finally allow priests and nuns to marry. They are only humans and experience feelings like any other person. Why is the church so obtuse about this?

faiz jilani azhar 16 August 2011 - 3:01pm / pakistan

I KNOW A THOROUGH HOUSE CLEANING OF THE CHURCH IS NEEDED,BUT YOU HAVEN'T SAID HOW THE CHURCH IS TO BE REBUILT EXCEPT "THROW THE BUMS OUT."WE CAN'T JUST TAKE OVER THE CHURCH WITH NO PLAN AND IT HAS TO BE "THE PLAN,"NOT A WHOLE BUNCH OF CONFLICTING PLANS
THAT TURNS INTO A GENERAL FREE-FOR-ALL WHICH WOULD BE A REAL MESS.ALSO WHO ARE WE
ELECTING SINCE YOU ARE NOT CLEAR ABOUT WHO THE LEADERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE AND EXACTLY
WHAT IS A CHURCH TAX-PAYER?I THINK YOU NEED TO GO BACK TO YOUR DRAWING BOARD AND COME BACK WITH SOMETHING MORE CONCRETE

Anonymous 26 May 2011 - 5:06pm / Kenya

I have seen and witnessed abuse by trusted clegy

inter4522 2 May 2011 - 8:19pm

I cannot believe that they would abuse these kids like this. This is so wrong what is happening here. We have to control this better in the future. whistleblower

Dorothy P 14 February 2011 - 2:19am / USA

Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, by its priests and/or deacons has been going on for many many many years. I am 80+ years and I was almost abused by our priest. The only reason that it did not happen, is that I told my Mom, who in turn told my Dad, who was also the local constable in our little Texas town. Daddy took care of it.

Anonymous 13 February 2011 - 4:42am / Nederlandse Antillen

Ik hoop dat God een zeer speciale plek heeft uitgekozen voor dit stelletje rotmensen en de hele bende supporters in Rome. Ze mogen allemaal naar dezelfde hel die ze aan de jegd vanaf het begin van die vieze instelling toegediend hebben.

New Chair rail height 10 December 2010 - 10:36am

I was at St Maria ter Engelen boarding school at Blijerheide (spelling?) in the early-mid 1950s and have experienced abuse there - while not all the time - for a certain times until I fell out of "grace" (Thank God) and was I made to feel the punishment!!!Babies don't need a vacation, but I still see them at the beach... it pisses me off! I'll go over to a little baby and say 'What are you doing here? You haven't worked a day in your life!' New Chair rail height

Hans Willems 30 September 2010 - 8:46am / New Zealand

I was at St Maria ter Engelen boarding school at Blijerheide (spelling?) in the early-mid 1950s and have experienced abuse there - while not all the time - for a certain times until I fell out of "grace" (Thank God) and was I made to feel the punishment!!!

What's going on there; can you fill me in on what's happening?

Thanks and regards;
Hans Willems

Capricornicus 14 September 2010 - 3:23am / Australia

I am wondering where in the world these pedophile criminal Catholic priests have not been operating. They are a disgrace and should all be locked up. Worse still is the Catholic Churches response once their activities are reported is to transfer them to another area to recommit their offences again and agin. These offences are committed on children of the faithful who entrust their offspring to the church in the hope that they will be protected and not preyed upon by criminal priests within the church. Then for those who have the temerity to seek compensation from the church they are faced with batteries of lawyers to try and protect their Holier than thou image (now battered beyond redemption). Disgruntled Parishioners are now deserting the faith in large numbers as never before.

mikey scotland 28 May 2010 - 10:09pm / UK

Why is it that we are living in the 21st century , yet the catholic church is still in the dark ages?
Child abuse is child abuse the world over and should be dealt with a public hanging.
The priests nuns brothers ect, should be named and shamed not moved to another state or country.
They should be paraded in public so everyone knows who and what these vile vermin are and what they have done.
Rome has protected these vile sex monsters for centuries and think they are untouchable.
They should be paraded and hanged in public as a warning to others and the hangman should be no other than the pope after all the buck stops at him.
The catholic church is Satan`s church evil to the core.
Why just not let priest`s & nuns marry then there would not be as many scandals?
The abuse would stop if the churches were empty and money stopped going in the plates on a Sunday`s.

mikey scotland 28 May 2010 - 10:08pm / UK

Why is it that we are living in the 21st century , yet the catholic church is still in the dark ages?
Child abuse is child abuse the world over and should be dealt with a public hanging.
The priests nuns brothers ect, should be named and shamed not moved to another state or country.
They should be paraded in public so everyone knows who and what these vile vermin are and what they have done.
Rome has protected these vile sex monsters for centuries and think they are untouchable.
They should be paraded and hanged in public as a warning to others and the hangman should be no other than the pope after all the buck stops at him.
The catholic church is Satan`s church evil to the core.
Why just not let priest`s & nuns marry then there would not be as many scandals?
The abuse would stop if the churches were empty and money stopped going in the plates on a Sunday`s.

Anonymous 17 May 2010 - 12:26am / Canada

I believe that sexual abuse is not only a sin and a crime, it is also a cycle that can run rampant through the generations of priests and congretations. Lack of equality and authorarition regimes can only excaberate the problem because they allow the organization to hide pedophilic practices and the truth. Pope Paul John II was correct to make the Catholic more open, but more MUST be done. One proposal I have in mind is to make the the Pope a figurehead, and give the REAL power to a council of Bishops elected by the congregations all over the world, as well as declassifying ALL records in the Catholic archives so people can further scrutinize them. Another idea I have is is having a small percentage of priests be women, so they can act in a observant role, and possibly spot patterns of pedophile behavior, since females can spot signs of child abuse much better than men. These traditional Catholics may disagree with me, but in the end, they may see that by keeping the priesthood male-only, they may be doing themselves and their family great harm. I also urge Massive reform of seminaries and boarding schools' procedures in order to greatly cut down on physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

If these reforms I suggest are not followed, then the Catholic Church can and will end up a fragmented shadow of herself.

JERRY2 12 May 2010 - 3:49am / USA

According to the Church's reasoning, all they have to do is make an " Act of Contrition", say they are sorry, say a few prayers for penance, and they are forgiven and can go to Heaven.

JERRY2 12 May 2010 - 3:44am / USA

Joseph Stalin was sent by his mother to a seminary and hated her for it. Perhaps that is where he learned also to hate the Church? He did not treat the Church kindly during his term in office, and was always hated, in turn, by the Church.

Anonymous 13 April 2010 - 4:08am / USA

Please don't link all religions together. Most Protestant churches figured out 40 yrs ago (I know it only took them about 450 yrs to do this) that they needed to be open and to address sexual violence in their churches just like any other institution - to go to the police, to cooperate with the police and the prosecutors and to suspend the accused from their roster of ministers. In addition, they learned to provide support for the victim, his/her family, the congregation, and the family of the perpetrator (if he/she has one). I am tired of anti-religious fervor using this as an excuse to slam all of us. Slam the Catholic Church - it is the guilty culprit. Leave the rest of us out of it.

Luke Sharpe 5 April 2010 - 7:45am / Widespread abuse at boarding schools et al

Soon it will be simpler to have a list of the few schools where this sort of abuse did NOT happen....

For now Breda, Tilburg, Eindhoven, 's Heerenberg, THAT list just keeps growing and GROWING!

Luke Sharpe,
in CANADA

Anonymous 16 March 2010 - 1:19pm / Lalaland

All religions are ancient monuments to superstitions, ignorance, ferocity and instinctual desires;and modern religions are only ancient follies rejuvenated.The Bible and the Koran are literature, not dogma.

Anonymous 4 March 2010 - 8:21am / usa

The Catholic Church is a very secretive organization. The question that needs to be asked is not what went on with children who were molested but rather what went on in seminary that formed these men. Recently met 4 priests in a year who were gay and their adult lovers. Have heard stories from them about the number of gays in the priesthood, and upper clergy. Laity needs to start investigations of ALL RELIGIOUS ORDERS. I think if one started to investigate seminary practices you'd find a great deal of emotional, sexual, physical and spiritual abuse. What the priests inflicted on others, is what was inflicted on them. The only solution to the Catholic Church's scandal is democratic reform and the end of both the Papacy and the (un)Holy See.

Hiram1 2 March 2010 - 12:45am / USA

"The Church seems to be a safe haven for sodomites, child molesters, and others who crave and pine for free sex."....It appears you are correct in your assessment! Maybe, that is why the Gay person was upset about not receiving his Communion from the priest. He saw so many sodomites in the Church who were receiving Communion, he thought he was entitled to Communion, also. It is okay for person who was a sodomite to stop his sinning as a homosexual and become a Christian but he or she is to their sodomite spirit at the door. { "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." If you are a gay person seeking Communion with Christ, you have to shed the spirit of a sodomite and put on the Spirit of Christ. If you are a Gay person who does not believe in Christ, then you need not worry about this message but should you change your mind because Christ has spoken to you that homosexuality is a sin, then knock at the door of Christ's Communion and you will be accepted!

Anonymous 1 March 2010 - 4:17pm / Lalaland

Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance? The Church seems to be a safe haven for sodomites, child molesters, and others who crave and pine for free sex.

Anonymous 28 February 2010 - 7:29pm / Uk

Churches often provide a safe place for people who otherwise would be in jail or in mental health institutions. People who know they have a problem get drawn to religious institutions where they can 'hide'. Apart from harbouring sexual perverts they also provide the ideal place for example for people who have obsessesive compulsive disorder and who are able to carry out the endless repetitive rituals of the churches. The talking in tongues etc are fits that are idolised in church but which would be signs of insanity elsewhere.
I sometimes wonder if some churches are setup deliberately for and by social misfits who either exploit people sexually, financially or psychologically. It would be interesting to see psychlogical assesments of church leaders!

Du 28 February 2010 - 2:38pm / USA

A man who believes that he eats his God we do not call mad; a man who says he is Jesus Christ, we call mad ( Claude Adrien Helvétius ).
I am convinced that the teaching of the church is in theory a crafty and evil lie, and in practice a concoction of gross superstition and witchcraft (Leo Tolstoy ).

Du 28 February 2010 - 2:56pm / USA

He who reads eccleciastical history reads nothing but the roguery and folly of bishops and churhmen ( Claude Adrien Helvétius ).
A man who believes that he eats his God we do not call mad; a man who says he is Jesus Christ, we call mad ( Claude Adrien Helvétius ).

Pastafari 28 February 2010 - 7:15am

If any non-religious organization was guilty of systemic pedophilia, laundering hundreds of millions of dollars of money (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/6746668/Vatican-B...), encouraging hatred of gays, discouraging the use of life-saving condoms in Africa, and the plethora of other crimes committed by the Roman Catholic Church, the police would do its utmost to shut it down. And yet, not only is the Church allowed to exist, it's given a very high status in society; it doesn't pay taxes, owns huge amounts of property, receives billions of dollars from citizens, the Pope is treated like a bloody demi-god... and why? Because the Church manages to hide behind a veil of supposed virtue, a veil based upon a system of superstition and metaphysics with exactly as much foundation in reailty as voodoo.

It's due time that people wake up, see the Church for what it is, and act accordingly. With pitchforks and torches if necessary.

Tuxster 28 February 2010 - 1:06pm / USA

Hi,

As a gay man of color living in the United States and in my exoerience, I agree with much of what you have written. However, the possibilty of the use of pitchforks and torches is a bit much.

Anonymous 28 February 2010 - 6:49am / Chile

You wrote my history.salesianos de Valdivia .Chile I have to tried to address the issue with them.Denied or they ask for evidence.

Steve Armiger 28 February 2010 - 2:04am / USA

The Catholic theocracy needs to be revolutionized. Top to bottom. It needs to be completely rebuilt. The pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns - the whole lot thrown out. The catholics themselves need to take over the church. Write detailed requirements for leaders and hold them accountable and have elections by the church taxpayers.

GEORGE 29 March 2010 - 10:37pm / USA

I KNOW A THOROUGH HOUSE CLEANING OF THE CHURCH IS NEEDED,BUT YOU HAVEN'T SAID HOW THE CHURCH IS TO BE REBUILT EXCEPT "THROW THE BUMS OUT."WE CAN'T JUST TAKE OVER THE CHURCH WITH NO PLAN AND IT HAS TO BE "THE PLAN,"NOT A WHOLE BUNCH OF CONFLICTING PLANS
THAT TURNS INTO A GENERAL FREE-FOR-ALL WHICH WOULD BE A REAL MESS.ALSO WHO ARE WE
ELECTING SINCE YOU ARE NOT CLEAR ABOUT WHO THE LEADERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE AND EXACTLY
WHAT IS A CHURCH TAX-PAYER?I THINK YOU NEED TO GO BACK TO YOUR DRAWING BOARD AND COME BACK WITH SOMETHING MORE CONCRETE.

Tuxster 28 February 2010 - 1:13pm / USA

Hi,

If everthing you wrote was out into action, the Church would no longer be the Roman Catholic Church -- it would be the Protestant church.

The fact remains the Church isn't about to change its ways because congregants want it too. Like any other top-down organization, the Church's view is if one doesn't like things about the Church, one can leave and go worship elsewhere. Naturally, I don't defend this position, but it is the truth.

Again, there are other christian bodies and churches that are more open to change and letting their congregations run the show. But again, this are Protestant organizations.

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