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Saturday 20 December  
St Joseph's hospital
Robert Chesal's picture
Veghel, Netherlands
Veghel, Netherlands

Time for the truth about Catholic sex abuse in the Netherlands

Published on : 19 March 2012 - 5:47pm | By Robert Chesal (Photo: (c) Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum)
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The revelation that a number of minors who were abused in Dutch Roman Catholic institutions were also forcibly castrated has shocked the Netherlands. It casts grave doubt upon the recent findings of a commission set up to look into abuse in the church. RNW's Robert Chesal, who first brought the sex abuse scandal to light, argues that only parliament can be trusted to investigate further.

Journalists of the Year 2010


RNW's Robert Chesal and Joep Dohmen of NRC Handelsblad were named journalists of the year in 2010 for their work in exposing sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church in the Netherlands.

Dohmen also published the book "Vrome Zondaars" (Pious Sinners) on the same subject.

We now know that former Dutch cabinet minister Wim Deetman did not meet the expectations he raised when he chaired the commission of inquiry into sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church. He did not get to the bottom of the abuse scandal or reveal all of the horrors that took place behind church doors in the Netherlands.

Whistle blowers punished
We know this thanks to investigative journalist Joep Dohmen of the newspaper NRC Handelsblad. Dohmen wrote about a boarding school student who had been sexually abused by a Dutch monk. When the former student reported the abuse to the police in 1956, he was brought to a Roman Catholic psychiatric ward, declared a homosexual and then castrated. The same surgery was probably performed on at least ten other schoolmates of his who tried to blow the whistle on abuse.

The main abuser in this case was ‘Gregorius,’ the brother superior of the Roman Catholic Harreveld boarding school in the east of the Netherlands.

We cannot yet say for sure why the Deetman Commission left all this information out of its voluminous report on sexual abuse in the church that was published just three months ago. The commission received a clear complaint detailing the castrations in 2010, which it now says it did not investigate "for lack of sufficient leads".

This explanation looks shaky at best, seeing as Joep Dohmen was able, in just a few months’ time, to find irrefutable evidence of one such illegal castration and strong indications of ten more.

Senior politician involved
But Dohmen found something even more important. He discovered that the Deetman Report failed to mention a certain political figure who tried to secure a royal pardon for Gregorius and other convicted Catholic brothers from Harreveld. That was Victor Marijnen, a former Dutch prime minister and leading member of the Catholic People's Party (KVP). The KVP later merged with Protestant parties to form the Christian Democrats (CDA) - the political party of inquiry commission chairman Wim Deetman.

Victor Marijnen was in an extraordinary position in the 1950s. Not only was he a rising star in his political party, he was also vice-chairman of the Dutch Catholic child protection agency, and –most pertinently– director of Harreveld boarding school. The Deetman Commission was aware of these connections and the potential conflicts of interest they represent. The commission was aware of Marijnen’s letter to the Queen on behalf of sexual abusers, too, but omitted these facts in its report.

Reacting to Dohmen's revelations, the Deetman Commission explains that it did not mention Marijnen because it did not detail any cases that could be traced back to an individual, for the sake of protecting privacy. However, elsewhere in the same report we see numerous mentions of cases that can be traced back to individuals, even highly-placed figures such as bishops Ad Simonis and Philippe Bär. The commission did not shy away from slapping these men on the wrist.

It's not unreasonable to conclude that the Deetman Commission refrained from investigating the castration because it knew this would inevitably lead to closer scrutiny of the Harreveld situation, exposing the role of Victor Marijnen and showing Mr Deetman’s own political party in a very negative light indeed.

The big picture
But this may be too narrow a view. The bigger picture is this: Victor Marijnen was just one member of a wider elite of Catholic notables who wielded vast power in the 1950s. They were captains of industry, chairmen of commissions, judges, high-ranking civil servants and politicians. And it was through this old boys network that abuse at Harreveld and other Roman Catholic institutions was covered up.

In short, the Harreveld castration story reveals collusion between institutions, bishops, politicians, the police and the justice system that enabled sexual abuse in the church to continue unpunished for decades on end.

Questions to answer
It's now clear that the critics were right when they complained that a church-installed commission of inquiry could not, or would not, get to the bottom of the abuse scandal. There must now be an impartial inquiry whose integrity is beyond doubt. Only parliament can fulfil this role. And perhaps the first witness called to testify under oath should be Wim Deetman himself.



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Anonymous 3 July 2013 - 4:04am

No institution should ever be trusted to investigate itself. We in Ireland still have a church hierarchy that is not willing to accept transparency nor accountability despite the horror of the abuse that went on within church and state institutions. Until senior members in government and the church are prosecuted for blocking the justice system and prolonging the suffering of innocent children, there can be no sense of justice. 

Anonymous 28 June 2012 - 2:43pm / USA

I had thought I could not be shocked any more about the abuse the Catholic hierarchy allowed and hid from the world. But reading that boys were castrated for reporting sexual abuse has me shaken once again to the core. What do we have to do to stop these abuses and the coverups that completely destroy the idea that the abusers are isolated cases? Those who have Power Over Others must always be subject to outside review.

Anonymous 12 May 2012 - 6:37am / pakistan

That is the real face of popes and churches. sham on them

Joe Davies 5 April 2012 - 9:05am

This really is a dishonest report and sums up Radio Netherlands ability to report the truth. This report will fill you in with more detail and is attempt to get nearer the truth

Dutch reporting has never been known for its robustness particularly RNW. Can I suggest that if you are going to continue to produce these fallicious reports in future that you at least put in some names of people who are alive so that you can be sued in an open court when they are proved wrong? The world will then see how good your reports are and your ability to report the truth.

Anonymous 24 March 2012 - 12:58am / Canada

My husband was beaten naked with wooden coat hangers in the shower of "boarding school" as early as 1940 by nuns and at least one priest, for no sin other than existing. There's no telling what else he'll remember before he gets some peace.

Anonymous 21 March 2012 - 8:43pm / Ireland

No institution should ever be trusted to investigate itself. We in Ireland still have a church hierarchy that is not willing to accept transparency nor accountability despite the horror of the abuse that went on within church and state institutions. Until senior members in government and the church are prosecuted for blocking the justice system and prolonging the suffering of innocent children, there can be no sense of justice.

San Diego Richard 20 March 2012 - 3:32pm / California, USA

This is so awful I am at a loss for words. These were also the techniques used by the Nazis to deal with those who complained. Who would have thought that the Catholic Church, which had suffered so much at the hands of the Nazis would adopt one of the same medical procedures deployed against Dutch dissidents during the Third Reich? It is so sad.

Anonymous 23 March 2012 - 4:11pm / Cuba

??? They should have 2/3rds of their male organ amputated so that the only function they could perform again is to urinate... this plus castration is what is needed...and throw in a few electrical shock therapy sessions make it look god!

Anonymous 21 March 2012 - 5:23pm / canada

The Catholic church suffered at the hands of the Third Reich? You might have a little reading to do. More often than not, they were completely complicit with the Nazi party's activities. The only reason you hear of cases like Dietrich Bonhoeffer is because they were so rare.

Judy Jones 20 March 2012 - 3:31am

This is horrific abuse which was done to these innocent children. When are church officials going to be held accountable for their thousands upon thousands of crimes against humanity?

(Koepel Landelijk Overleg Kerkelijk Kindermisbruik) has said these are crimes against humanity and ought to be punished as such. We second this call.

As of this passed week the Vatican officials have their priorities completely screwed up.

Concrete actions to make children safe should be the highest priority for Pope Benedict, not investigating who has leaked their secret documents.

It is time for other nations and agencies to intervene in the church’s horrific crimes against children. Abuses like these are why SNAP and CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) have asked the prosecutor at the ICC in the Hague to open an investigation into crimes against humanity committed by top-ranking Vatican officials.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511
"Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests" and all clergy.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims.
SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 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 and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc. Our website is

Carolyn Disco 19 March 2012 - 10:07pm / USA

Congratulations to editorialist, Robert Chesal, for his outstanding opinion piece and to Radio Netherlands Worldwide for broadcasting it.

Never, never, never trust a church sponsored inquiry! Catholic politicians and other elites close to bishops have repeatedly proven their incompetence. Please get a truly independent inquiry. The brother superior Gregorius case is simply nauseating; the victim abused, then castrated.

Here are comparisons between two investigations in the US, showing what the bishops claimed with in-house investigations, then what law enforcement actually found:

1) New Hampshire Attorney General investigation of the Diocese of Manchester, NH:

2) Church audits of its implementation of its new sexual abuse policy, versus what the Attorney General found on the same issue:

Watch out for clever parsing of language by bishops to twist results. I see Gregorius was a religious brother. The US bishops restricted their audits to “clergy.” Well, what do you know? Religious brothers like Benedictines and Franciscans are not ordained, so abuse by brothers is not important enough to count in their annual audits. The same for seminarians who do not go on to ordination.

Truthful communication is beyond bishops. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "There is a way of speaking which is . . . entirely correct and unexceptionable, but which is, nevertheless, a lie . . . . When an apparently correct statement contains some deliberate ambiguity, or deliberately omits the essential part of the truth . . . it does not express the real as it exists in God."

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