As I suspected, there’s a lot less to the Dutch Castration Story

Here’s the invaluable GetReligion on the latest hit piece from the MSM:

This is a disturbing story. But is it fair or thorough reporting? No.

The lede states there is “new evidence that only adds to the scandal engulfing the church there.” The body of the story reports that there was no new evidence to be found.

What is also missing from this article is a comment or statement from the church, the hospital, the state — anyone representing the authorities that had this poor man castrated or the commission that reviewed this case. The voices we hear are of a professor of religious history — who offers an opinion that this was a bad thing, but has no knowledge of the particular case. And of a reporter interviewing another reporter about his story.

Does this failure to offer a second side to the story necessarily render it suspect? I can see an argument being made that there is no need to hear a justification of castration. But as the New York Times ran with a headline that accuses the Dutch Catholic Church of castrating young men, I would hope there was an attempt to elicit an explanation.

Another piece that is missing from this story is context. How many people were castrated in the Netherlands during this period? The Dutch reporter cited by the Times believes there were 10 cases. A quick search through the academic literature reports that there were around 400 cases.

An article entitled “Eugenic and sexual folklores and the castration of sex offenders in the Netherlands (1938–1968)” published in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 39, No. 2, June 2008 by Theo van der Meer states that castration of sexual offenders was part of the Dutch state’s eugenics program. Pedophiles were castrated to prevent them from re-offending as were those adjudged to be mentally deficient.

The abstract to the article reads in part:

From 1938 to 1968 in the Netherlands, after a decade of debates, 400 sex offenders who had been committed to asylums for the criminally insane were ‘voluntarily’ and ‘therapeutically’ castrated. For political reasons debates on castration, meant to create consensus, eliminated any reference to or connotation with eugenics, yet these policies were unthinkable without them.

Read through the journal article and you will find all the details you will ever want to read about a dark chapter of Western medicine which saw castration as a tool in a public health program to improve the human race through eugenics and to combat what that age saw as criminal sexual deviancy.

The Times story fails the test of good journalism on several levels. It begins with an over the top headline and lede that implies the existence of Catholic cabal worthy of Dan Brown that preyed on young men — abusing them and castrating them.

It offers uncorroborated anecdotal evidence from a man dead 54 years to insinuate the Church was complicit in a gruesome crime — yet we don’t know if it was a crime. The history offered is full of gaps and makes assumptions — was the victim in the care of a Catholic institution when he reported the abuse? Was he passed from Catholic institutional custodial care to a Catholic-affiliated psychiatric hospital to a Catholic-affiliated surgery center for sterilization? Under what circumstances was the claim of abuse made? The journal article reports that castration was ordered by the state for those found to be mentally deficient or who were incorrigible sexual offenders. Who was the victim? Could the Catholic Church order the castration of a young man? How was that possible?

Professionally this is sloppy work. It is also offensive. The Catholic pedophile scandal in Holland is a horrific case of abuse, betrayal and evil. Tossing the incendiary charge of castration into this cesspit of moral corruption cheapens the suffering of those who were abused. It tells the true victims of abuse, “well it could have been worse, you could have been castrated.”

There is a story in this mess that a good journalist could bring out — a story of state sanctioned abuse of those whom science adjudged to be defective — of a church that relaxed its standards in the face of government and public opinion. We do not get that here. (One of the lacunae in the journal article is the objection by Catholic theologians in the 1930s to state castration programs on moral grounds and its disquiet over the whole field eugenics.)

  • http://thecrawfordfamily.net/blog Ken Crawford

    The excerpt of the 2008 article above, specifically the “‘voluntarily’ and ‘therapeutically’” part, reminded me that this is going on today here in the US, at least here in California. And it’s actually a NEW thing.

    It came to mind from a discussion around sexual offenders who have completed their sentence but can’t find anywhere to live because the community they’re being released to goes ballistic. In the articles surrounding the controversy, it was noting that the offender was “voluntarily” castrated (the language in the articles implied it was to prove they were a changed man).

    But my memory being sparked, I did some research this morning and EIGHT STATES do this and in many cases there’s nothing voluntary, scare quotes or otherwise, about it:

    http://www.cga.ct.gov/2006/rpt/2006-R-0183.htm

    But of course that’s not important to the NYT and others… it’s approaching Holy Week and the Church must be punished. Particularly this year. How DARE the Church defend itself against the HHS mandate!?!

    Everyone be ready, the next few weeks are going to see an onslaught of carefully worded, grasping at straws (because they’re running out of new material) attempts to further stain and defame the image of the Church.

  • The Deuce

    There is a story in this mess that a good journalist could bring out — a story of state sanctioned abuse of those whom science adjudged to be defective — of a church that relaxed its standards in the face of government and public opinion.

    Guaranteed you will never see a forthright report in the NYT on the central role played by the scientific establishment in perpetrating many of the 20th century’s crimes against humanity, or reflection on what that says about that establishment, what lead the establishment to that place, and what the takeaway lesson should be for us in today’s debates.

  • http://primordialslack.com Joan of Argghh!

    Yes, the timing is curious and it’s an age-old play employed by the newsroom editor with an agenda: let’s build a narrative wall, one piece at a time. Recycle some old news that fits where the agenda wants to go, find someone to comment on its significance or some other blather, and then see what happens. If nothing happens, they wait a while, and trot out the next brick in the wall.

  • http://peterseanesq.blogspot.com/ Peter Sean Bradley

    “Three generations of imbeciles are enough” according to the great liberal judicial icon Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in Buck v. Bell (1927).

    And that was all about eugenics and sterilization.

    But *hush* there’s nothing to see; no one has ever been hurt by science or liberalism.

    Hey, look atwhat the Catholic Church is doing!

    This is interesting – according to this site the petition for rehearing was written by a lawyer for a Catholic men’s group – http://buckvbell.com/downloads.html:

    “The petition for rehearing–written not by Irving Whitehead but by lawyers for a Roman Catholic men’s group–was the finest effort in Carrie Buck’s defense. But by then, as Whitehead no doubt knew, there was little chance that the Court would reconsider. ”

    I wonder what the back-story is on that.

  • godescalc

    “Read through the journal article and you will find all the details you will ever want to read about a dark chapter of Western medicine which saw castration as a tool in a public health program to improve the human race through eugenics and to combat what that age saw as criminal sexual deviancy… Could the Catholic Church order the castration of a young man? How was that possible?”

    Read the journal article cited and you find that Catholic theologians were prominent players in the Dutch castration debates which shaped this policy: *preventative* castration (as desired by secular medical professionals) was successfully resisted as being eugenic, but theologians were more at ease with the idea of castration as (voluntary) therapy for a diseased and disordered sexuality. See sections 4 and 5; section 7 is even titled “Regulating castration, avoiding eugenics”, and describes how eugenics-free castration was pursued. Thomas Aquinas seems to have been mentioned a lot in defence of emasculation.

    (The fundamental point, which remains valid, was that castration is acceptable as a medical procedure to cure worse ills – body parts may be amputated to prevent the spread of e.g. cancer or gangrene. Catholic theologians saw an inflamed sexuality as being a worse ill, and medical science saw castration as being a cure.)

  • James H, London

    Mark,

    Thanks so much for passing this on. I found the original Telegraph article, and am very glad to be able to pass this on to the people I showed it to.

    Well done, yerself! :)

  • Ted

    The very journal article which George Conger quotes http://socialhistory.org/sites/default/files/docs/projects/eugenics.pdf
    says that Catholic theologians were responsible for legitimizing castration as a “voluntary” treatment for sexual temptation which they identified as a mental illness. These theologians sought to distinguish such castrations from eugenics by not allowing them as legal punishments and by making them “voluntary.” However, by supporting the contention that homosexual orientation is a mental illness rather than merely a human condition which implies certain temptations, these theologians voided the requirements that such castrations be “voluntary.” After all, mental illness and status as a minor robs one of the right of self-determination and places one’s fate in the hands of a parent or custodian.

    This is still relevant because as late as 1992, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith justified the denial of civil protections of homosexuals on the basis that their “objective disorder” was enough like a mental illness that it could result in the same reduction of rights.

  • joe

    give a devout Catholic any article or piece of information on the Church doing something wrong, be financial scanalds or collaboration with Nazis or priests and institutions abusing boys, or girls, or gay boys, or whatever, and the response is always the same: this is bad journalism. The journalist should have written this, should not have written that, should have used different words, should have attacked the state or science… bla bla bla. Get it once and forever, all journalism is always at least somehwat biased, every story, even if it pretends just to give the information. Nothing new here. But this has nothing to do with the disturbing facts reported.

  • joe

    and yes, you got one thing right – no one really needs to hear the context in which little chidlren were raped or castrated.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X