Tens of thousands of Dutch children were sexually abused by priests and other Roman Catholic religious figures in the last 65 years, but church officials failed to take adequate action or report problems to police, an independent commission said Friday.
Many of the victims spent part of their childhood in Catholic institutions such as schools and orphanages, where the risk of abuse was twice as high as in the general population, the commission said. But complaints were often ignored or covered up by authorities who were more intent on protecting the church’s reputation than providing care for abuse victims.
An independent commission set up by the Dutch Conference of Bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious Orders, another Catholic organization, examined such misconduct from 1945 to 2010 and how the church chose to deal — or not to deal — with it.
Friday’s long-awaited report adds more fuel to the abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide, from America to Australia. The Vatican’s credibility and standing has been significantly eroded by a stream of allegations that priests molested and assaulted members of their flock, and that bishops and other senior church officials tried to hush up the accusations.
The Dutch commission stopped short of accusing the Catholic Church in the Netherlands as a whole of fostering an institutional “culture of silence.” The report said that authority within the Dutch church was fragmented, with each diocese given latitude to deal with problems on its own. There was no centrally organized policy or procedure for dealing with sexual abuse.
Wim Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht, apologized for what happened in years past and told journalists that the report “fills us with shame and sorrow.” The conference of religious orders called the abuse “a dark chapter in the history of religious life” and vowed not to repeat mistakes.